Cannabis education has reached millions of young people: minister

OTTAWA — Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor says the federal government has reached millions of young Canadians through various, intensive public education campaigns aimed at informing them about the health and safety risks of using cannabis.

The lack of a visible, national public awareness campaign is among the top concerns of senators who are currently studying the bill to legalize recreational marijuana.

But if senators haven’t seen the campaigns, Petitpas Taylor says that’s because they’re not aimed at people in their age group; they’re aimed at youths who are the considered the most vulnerable to the potential adverse health impacts of cannabis use.

And that means the campaigns are showing up on social media platforms and web banners, not primarily on television or radio.

Petitpas Taylor says one program, started last year and targeting 13- to 24-year-olds, has educated 7.9 million young people through social media and 47 million through web banners.

Moreover, she says 64 million have seen a public safety campaign to discourage drug-impaired driving, targeting youths through Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Youtube, Chatbox and other social media platforms.

As well, signs warning against driving high have also been placed in 210 cinemas across the country.

“We’re going to great lengths to ensure that accurate information is being delivered to young people,” Petitpas Taylor told the Senate’s social affairs committee Wednesday.

In addition to targeting youths, she said Health Canada has been conducting an education campaign targeting parents, running ads on social media, television and radio. And the department has partnered with Drug Free Kids Canada to distribute more than 180,000 “Cannabis Talk” kits to help parents discuss the issue with their children.

“I am confident that our comprehensive public awareness campaign will increase Canadians’ understanding of the facts on cannabis and will ultimately protect their health and safety.”

But not all senators seemed reassured.

“Nowhere have I seen evidence of how this particular age group, 18-25, will be protected and kept well-informed,” commented independent Sen. Chantal Petitclerc at one point.

Conservative Sen. Nancy Greene Raine said by legalizing marijuana, the government is sending “a very strong message to young people that it’s OK.”

And fellow Conservative Sen. Vern White questioned how the government can say it’s trying to discourage cannabis use among young people when the bill would allow their parents to grow up to four plants in their home, where it would be easily accessible to kids.

However, Petitpas Taylor argued that Canadian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are already “among the highest users of cannabis in the world.” The objective of legalization is to regulate it and make it harder for young people to get their hands on it.

Liberal MP Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief who is the Liberal government’s point man on cannabis legalization, told the committee that educating parents who intend to grow their own pot will also be important.

“Frankly, any parent has a responsibility to protect their children from anything, from the medicine cabinet, from anything that can cause them harm,” he said, noting that the main source of alcohol for underage kids is “swiping it out of their father’s liquor cabinet.”

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