Courtesy of Globe and Mail
The federal government will be spending an additional $36.4-million over five years to educate Canadians on the dangers of marijuana use and impaired driving, hoping to address growing fears over the upcoming legalization of the drug.
The 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 marijuana for recreational use by adults.
The federal campaign will be targeted at young Canadians and other vulnerable groups such as Indigenous people, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and Canadians with a history of mental illness.
Provincial governments and educators have expressed concerns that young Canadians, who face greater health risks related to the use of marijuana than adults over 25, will increase their consumption under a legal regime.
“We want to make sure all Canadians, particularly our young adults and youth, understand the health and safety risks of cannabis. These efforts also aim to equip parents and teachers with tools to have meaningful discussions with young Canadians about the risks of cannabis use,” Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said in a statement.
The public-awareness campaign will also aim 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 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,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement.
The lack of preparations on the education front has fuelled various complaints about the government’s legislation to legalize marijuana, which is currently being studied by the health committee of the House.
The executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, Ian Culbert, said that 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.”
Former federal minister Anne McLellan, who chaired a task force on the legalization of marijuana, said that simply setting a legal age of 18 (or higher, depending on the province) would be insufficient to prevent consumption among young Canadians.
“We recommended that robust preventive measures such as sustained public education along with smart regulation would better control access and use by young adults and mitigate health risks,” Ms. McLellan told the health committee.
She added that the price of the product will have an impact on its use, but that public education is “the best preventive strategy” to deter widespread use of the drug.
“Price point is important here but so is public education, understanding the risks, understanding why you shouldn’t start to use early, and if you do, don’t use heavily but use casually in moderation,” she said.
The Saskatoon Police Service told the committee that the need for public-education campaigns was urgent.
“A public-education strategy should focus specifically on information for youth, parents and vulnerable populations. This component needs to be developed with input from all appropriate agencies, and the police would like to be a part of this conversation and preparation. Such a strategy should be non-judgmental, relatable, open-minded, and understandable,” said Deputy Chief Mark Chatterbok of the Saskatoon Police Service.