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Ahead Of Marijuana Legalization, Health Canada Is Shifting Its Stance On Weed

OTTAWA — In the past, public health campaigns warning of the harmful effects of drugs delivered one resounding message: Don’t do it.

But now that the federal government has decided to legalize marijuana, Health Canada has undertaken new strategies to try and land on teens’ screens and in the places, they hang out.

“Inevitably, that communication and education is going to be more nuanced and subtle,” said David Hammond, a professor in the school of public health at the University of Waterloo.

Hammond said the federal government has adopted a harm reduction approach to its education around cannabis. That means instead of warning the public not to consume it, the messages point out that there are circumstances where it should be avoided.

Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press
A man rolling a joint in Kingston, Ont.

Health Canada says it has rolled out a number of public education campaigns and has invested some coin in the effort. A social media campaign has been underway since last spring, and Public Safety began running a campaign on drug-impaired driving last fall.

There’s also a cannabis health facts advertising campaign underway, launched last March, which aims to deliver “honest facts” to teens. This campaign features questions from the public and answers by cannabis experts, and can be found on the government’s cannabis website. As recently as July, Health Canada launched an interactive engagement tour which targets youth and young adults and takes place at events like fairs, music festivals and sporting events.

The department said the planned investment in cannabis public education, awareness and surveillance is more than $100 million over six years. This includes $62.5 million over five years, proposed in last year’s federal budget, to support community organizations and Indigenous groups that are educating their communities on the risks associated with cannabis use.

Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press
Marijuana buds pictured in Kingston, Ont.

Hammond said it’s too early to determine the effectiveness of these campaigns, but said it’s clear Health Canada is “trying”. He suggested the old tried-and-true black-and-white pamphlet will not be carried in the backpacks of teens.

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