Pubdate: Wed, 01 Nov 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Daniel Leblanc and Mike Hager
Page: A6


The federal government will be spending an additional $36.4-million
over five years to educate Canadians on the dangers of using cannabis
at a young age and impaired driving, hoping to address growing
concerns over the drug's legalization.

The new money comes in addition to $9.6-million in previously
announced spending on public awareness campaigns, with eight months to
go before the government's July 1 deadline to legalize cannabis for
recreational use by adults.

The federal campaign will target young Canadians and other vulnerable
groups, such as Indigenous people, pregnant and breastfeeding women,
and Canadians with a history of mental illness. Health experts have
pointed out that cannabis users under the age of 25 face greater
long-term risks than adults.

"We want to target kids," Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said
at a news conference. "There is a lot of misinformation about
cannabis, so first and foremost, we have to educate people."

Bill Blair, the Liberal point man on the legalization file, added that
previous campaigns on tobacco and drinking-and-driving have shown
their effectiveness in reducing negative behaviour. In the context of
legal cannabis, he added, the public awareness campaign will focus on
the health effects of using marijuana instead of the potential legal

"The earlier [young people] begin to use it, the more frequently they
use it and the higher the potency of what they use can all have very
adverse effects on their health but also on their social outcomes,"
said the parliamentary secretary to the ministers of Health and
Justice. "We want to make sure young people have the information that
they need to make smarter choices."

Another of the goals of the public awareness campaign will be to
educate drivers on the dangers of using marijuana before taking the
wheel, especially when alcohol is also involved.

"Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in
Canada, and drug-impaired driving has been increasing every year since
2009," Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement.
"Public education and awareness will help Canadians, especially youth
and their parents, understand the potentially deadly risks of driving
while impaired by cannabis or other drugs."

The lack of preparations on the education front has fuelled various
complaints about the government's legislation to legalize cannabis,
which has been studied by the health committee of the House.

Young Canadians consistently rank among the heaviest users of cannabis
in the world despite the longstanding prohibition and decades of scare
tactics aimed at preventing the use of illicit substances.

Rebecca Haines-Saah, an expert on youth substance use from the
University of Calgary's school of medicine, said Ottawa appears to be
moving away from the "this is your brain on drugs" approach to
education, but much more must be done to listen to young cannabis
users about why they consume the drug.

A request for proposals on a cannabis education campaign put out by
the federal government this fall highlighted a problematic key message
that cannabis, like alcohol, is dangerous, Ms. Haines-Saah said.

"It's a bit disingenuous to say that, like alcohol, cannabis has risks
because the bottom line, the reason why we're legalizing this drug, is
it has less social and health harms at the community and individual
level," she said.

As well, the federal government's request that the campaign stress to
young people that cannabis will stop them from reaching their "full
potential" might not resonate with those who use the drug too much,
Ms. Haines-Saah said.

"Yes it would be ideal if we could not use substances to cope, but
what about those people who are saying, 'Hey, I need something to cope
with daily life with the stress and this is a less risky choice than
something that I can potentially overdose on,' " she said.

Ian Culbert, the executive director of the Canadian Public Health
Association, said Canadians must become at ease when they talk about
cannabis and discuss potential negative effects with their children.

"The prohibition model currently in place in Canada has severely
hampered health promotion and harm reduction efforts. The only message
we had at our disposal was, 'Just say no,' and clearly that has
failed," he told the committee in September. "It is our view that
legal cannabis sales must therefore be preceded by comprehensive,
non-judgmental, non-stigmatizing health-promotion campaigns across
Canada that have a clear and consistent message."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt