Reducing harms and risks
Legalizing cannabis means the provincial government needs to protect the health of New Brunswickers; especially children and youth. Studies clearly show that youth who consume cannabis on a regular and heavy basis are at risk of negative physical and mental health outcomes, including an increased risk of addiction, psychosis, depression and anxiety and poor academic achievement.
In addition to youth, high-risk groups include people with mental illness, people with substance abuse problems, pregnant women and their unborn children, people living in poverty, people who have problems in school or other aspects of life. Consideration should also be given to communities at greater risk such as those communities that have higher rates of unemployment, poverty and poor housing.
Some feel simply informing New Brunswickers about the harms and risks of using cannabis is enough to lessen those risks. However, lessons learned in reducing tobacco rates have shown that telling people it is harmful to use tobacco does not stop people from smoking. The provincial government needs to take a cautious, comprehensive approach to effectively reduce the harms and risks associated with legalizing cannabis.
The working group reviewed the literature and consulted with experts to reduce the harms and risks associated with legalizing cannabis. The following recommendations are adapted from Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Many of these suggested approaches address the lessons learned in Colorado and Washington previously described in this report.
• Balance the risk of setting a price that is too high and drives consumers to the illicit market and unregulated products versus a price that is too low, which might encourage use.
• Restrict higher-risk products and formulations: Products with higher concentrations have added risks and unknown long term impacts. These risks are worse for young people, including children.
• Prohibit discount pricing, bulk purchases and incentive programs.
• Ensure additional funding for health-related programs: Reinvest a portion of revenue from the sale of cannabis into health care, including strengthening treatment for people with mental illness and problematic substance use.
• Invest in education and prevention to promote lower‐ risk cannabis use guidelines and to raise awareness of the risks to groups at higher risk: Education and awareness campaigns should be focused on specific groups of people who are at greatest risk of harm such as those who use cannabis frequently (daily or near-daily), pregnant women, people with a personal or family history of mental illness, and people with substance use problems. Educational information could be used by parents to help them discuss cannabis use with their children, or by teachers to educate their students, or by health-care providers to promote low risk cannabis use with their clients/patients.
• Strengthen programs that build youth resilience and nurture positive child development, and address the broader societal factors known to put youth at risk for substance use. Communities should be encouraged to look at drug use behaviours in their area and work together to develop solutions that will work best for them.
• Set a minimum age for staff who sell cannabis and ensure retailers are adequately trained to sell cannabis products
Finally, there is a need to research and monitor the impact of legalization in terms of reducing harms and risks. For example, if there are more motor vehicle accidents, increased crime, more people with substance abuse problems, more visits to emergency rooms or physician offices, or more communities that are doing poorly, the provincial government may have to make some changes.
Education and awareness
Investing in targeted education and awareness will help reduce harms and risks of legalizing cannabis. However, issues such as carefully considering where cannabis is sold, the cost of it, how strong the products are, how the products are displayed and packaged, and rules around driving and workplace safety will have a significant effect on reducing the harms and risks of legalizing cannabis in New Brunswick.
Several stakeholders who presented to the working group strongly recommended that education be started in the public school system (K-12 approach) and that education also be part of any penalty.