‘Cannabis 101’: Prov­ince ramps up pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion as le­gal­iza­tion looms

Fort McMurray Today - - ALBERTA NEWS - CLARE CLANCY cclancy@post­media.com

A blunt pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign on cannabis con­sump­tion will tar­get a broad swath of po­ten­tial users dur­ing the first days of le­gal­iza­tion, says the pro­vin­cial cannabis pro­gram man­ager.

“New users re­ally need some very ba­sic in­for­ma­tion,” said Lacey Hoy­land of the Al­berta Gam­ing, Liquor and Cannabis Com­mis­sion (AGLC). “Cur­rent users aren’t go­ing to need Cannabis 101.

“We’re re­ally try­ing to make sure peo­ple have fac­tual in­for­ma­tion that can be sci­en­tif­i­cally de­fended.”

The prov­ince’s first safe-use cam­paign — with a cost of more than $500,000 — in­cludes ra­dio spots, pre-show ads at cinemas, paid so­cial me­dia posts, on­line ban­ner ads and search en­gine mar­ket­ing.

“We’ve had some chal­lenges with so­cial me­dia. Face­book doesn’t like to talk about cannabis be­cause Face­book is an Amer­i­can com­pany,” Hoy­land said.

Ra­dio ads will be heard on 65 to 80 sta­tions across Al­berta and on the mu­sic stream­ing ser­vice Spo­tify. Out­reach also in­cludes paid on­line con­tent on Post­media web­sites.

Dis­pelling the myths

The AGLC has iden­ti­fied a few pri­or­i­ties for the cam­paign which launched Aug. 7 and will con­tinue into Novem­ber, Hoy­land said. Themes in­clude re­spon­si­ble use, pre­ven­tion of im­paired driv­ing, health ef­fects and safety in the work­place.

“One of the most com­mon push­backs we’re get­ting right now … is ac­tu­ally from cur­rent users who be­lieve there are no risks or harms what­so­ever with this prod­uct,” she said, not­ing the cam­paign tar­gets 18 to 54 year olds.

“There’s also a group of peo­ple who be­lieve it will cure every­thing and that also is just as much of a myth … even a blood pres­sure pill does not cure blood pres­sure in ev­ery sin­gle pa­tient who takes it.”

Other ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns will fol­low af­ter le­gal­iza­tion, with slo­gans and brand­ing yet to be de­cided, Hoy­land said.

The AGLC has al­ready put min­i­mal­ist posters up in restau­rants and bars with mes­sages such as: “Cannabis can af­fect ev­ery­one dif­fer­ently.”

A brochure that will be avail­able at cannabis re­tail­ers, reads: “If you choose to use cannabis, get to know the facts.” In­side the pam­phlet, the phrase “start low, go slow” sug­gests that new users should try a low dosage.

‘Smok­ing is the worst choice’

The AGLC de­pends on Al­berta Health Ser­vices for in­for­ma­tion to use in its pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign and also re­lies on guide­lines from the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health in Toronto.

Health Canada will mon­i­tor the ads. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has rolled out its own mes­sages, in­clud­ing the “don’t drive high” cam­paign which launched last year.

The AGLC will be en­cour­ag­ing users to con­sume cannabis us­ing oils and soft gels, Hoy­land said.

“Smok­ing is the worst choice for the method of con­sump­tion … you’re us­ing a burned prod­uct that pro­vides sim­i­lar car­cino­gens to tobacco smoke,” she said. “We’re also push­ing not to mix cannabis with tobacco and al­co­hol.”

Hoy­land, a reg­is­tered nurse, said us­ing cannabis and tobacco to­gether in­creases the risk of ad­dic­tion to nico­tine, and al­co­hol can in­ten­sify the im­pair­ment caused by both sub­stances.

Fu­ture ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns will fo­cus on ex­plain­ing to con­sumers why they should pur­chase cannabis le­gally as op­posed to us­ing any on the black mar­ket, she said.

“We also know there are a lot of searches on our site for in­for­ma­tion around preg­nancy and cannabis, and breast­feed­ing,” she said, not­ing it as an­other pri­or­ity for mes­sag­ing.

Hoy­land points to the even­tual in­tro­duc­tion of cannabis ed­i­bles as a whole new chal­lenge, given that U.S. ju­ris­dic­tions re­ported con­sumers were con­fused by packaging la­bels.

“Peo­ple were eat­ing an en­tire prod­uct think­ing that was the serv­ing size … so they were get­ting into the very bad re­ac­tions,” she said, adding Al­berta learned lessons from places like Colorado, Ore­gon and Cal­i­for­nia.

“(Over con­sump­tion) doesn’t kill you, but can make life very un­com­fort­able for a pe­riod of time.”

Pre­vi­ously pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in the prov­ince was un­der the um­brella of the Cannabis Sec­re­tar­iat, which Hoy­land said was dis­banded and its port­fo­lio moved to Al­berta Trea­sury Board and Fi­nance.

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