Health Canada's cannabis plan allows for informed decisions

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Health Canada’s latest investment in its cannabis public education strategy promotes a sustainable and healthy relationship between young people and marijuana.   

If you tell teens not to do something, they’ll still try it. A legalized substance with potential risks deserves a forum for thoughtful open dialogue, not a refusal of acknowledgement.

This coming October, recreational cannabis use will be legal in Canada. As that date fast approaches, it’s become critical that we educate young people on safe and moderate use of the drug­ while understanding they’ll use it regardless. 

With this in mind, Health Canada is investing $100 million over six years in public education initiatives. This includes supporting community organizations and cultural groups in teaching their communities about the risks associated with cannabis use. 

This proactive strategy is necessary to allow people to make educated and informed decisions about their cannabis use. It replaces spurious second-hand information around most substance use with accessible and credible resources.

Young people should know what getting high feels like and what it does to your body—for better and for worse— before trying it. In an age where impaired driving still occurs and drugs are often laced with other substances, a lack of knowledge about cannabis could be fatal. 

Alternately, those too frightened to use cannabis may miss the recreational benefits of the drug when used safely. Regardless of whether a young person uses cannabis or not, they should have all the facts to make an informed choice. 

Legal drug use is a health issue, not a legal issue. Health Canada’s embrace of public education underscores that. However, their next challenge will be to engage with young people unconvinced by the government’s ability to connect with their demographic. 

Every campaign contributes to discussion. The government may miss the mark in future social media campaigns, but even a bad campaign promotes active dialogue through humour. 

The key to widely successful education will be whether the government is able to present cannabis reasonably and without fear-mongering. 

The best way to do that might be making marijuana education mandatory from a young age and incorporating cannabis education into the health curriculum. 

From assigning projects that ask students to design their own cannabis safety PSAs to training trusted teachers to be a resource for questions, designating the school curriculum a safe space for dialogue would promote active student engagement. 

Teaching people to responsibly consume any legal drug is safer than denying them the discussion of that drug. Hopefully, Health Canada’s first step toward honest and credible public education will lead schools and other trusted institutions to do the same. 

Journal Editorial Board

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