Pubdate: Mon, 16 Apr 2018
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Toronto Star
Author: Vaughan Dowie


Canada is moving closer to the legalization of recreational Cannabis
this summer. Federal legislation is awaiting Senate approval and all
the provinces have developed their implementation approach.
Governments across the country rarely agree on anything. But as we
embark on this change, they have been unanimous in agreeing that their
top policy objective is the protection of youth.

We know what the approaches and commitments have been from various
governments, so we are in a good position to know whether their
actions reflect their words. So far, the simple answer is no.

Significant efforts have gone into developing legislation that
provides strong deterrents for selling cannabis to youth under the age
of legal purchase, driving while intoxicated etc. But there are two
key areas that are not yet sufficiently addressed.

The first has to do with concerted and sustained efforts at public
education aimed at youth and their families; the second, a commitment
to use some of the proceeds that government will realize from both
taxation and distribution to enhance services for youth in need of
addiction treatment. Article Continued Below

I'm privileged to be CEO of Pine River Institute, what I believe is
Canada's best residential youth addiction program. A large number of
our clients tell us cannabis is their primary drug of choice. Many
began using it around age of 12 and none believed cannabis was
anything other than a benign substance. "What could go wrong?" they

Research tells us a very different story, particularly in regard to
adolescents because their brains are still developing. For some,
cannabis can have serious effects on the longer-term functioning of
their brains and their mental health. So, we need to ensure that young
people at a very early age understand that the use of cannabis is not
risk free.

Canadian teens lead the developed world in cannabis use. At a minimum,
our goal should be to delay use to allow more time for the adolescent
brain to develop. To achieve this goal, we need an effective public
education campaign aimed at youth, as well as their families. The
facts must be better known so youth can make informed choices. These
campaigns must be sustained over time and should not wait until
legalization. They must begin now.

But aside from the $62.5 million over five years that the federal
government has committed toward public education, most of the
provinces have remained silent on their investments and their plans to
educate their youth around cannabis use and misuse.

The recent Ontario budget predicts revenue of $230 million over the
next 3 years from cannabis sales. Surely much of that should be
earmarked to educating our youth and investing in youth addiction treatment.

Some claim that the legalization of recreational cannabis will not
increase adolescent use. But the recently released Ontario Student
Drug Use and Health Survey suggests that's wrong.

Students were asked their intentions after cannabis is legalized:

* 62.1 per cent of students indicate that they do not intend to use 
cannabis even if it is legalized for Ontario adults.

* 11.4 per cent will use cannabis at their current rate. 8.1 per cent 
will try cannabis.

* 3.6 per cent will use cannabis more often than they do now

* 14.2 per cent were unsure of their intentions.

So, almost 12 per cent of these students believe that they will either
initiate or increase cannabis use, post legalization. However, even if
there is not an increase in use, there remains a desperate need for
more youth substance abuse treatment.

It is unethical for any jurisdiction to profit from the tax and sale
of cannabis and not invest a significant portion in treatment. Some
politicians say this money will find its way into general provincial
coffers and therefore the health-care system at large. But the
health-care budget encompasses a variety of things and youth treatment
is a very small part of that budget.

Ontario recently announced a large investment in mental health and
addiction. That is welcome news. But we are still playing catch up.
Governments in every jurisdiction must fulfil their promise of
protecting our youth. So please use the funds from cannabis to do just

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Vaughan Dowie is CEO of Pine River Institute, a residential youth
addiction program.
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