Cannabis curriculum needed: NSTU
The federal government has spent more than $33 million on cannabis education — out of a planned $108 million over six years — but critics say little of that money has trickled directly to communities.
According to a response to a written Order Paper Question filed by Saskatoon Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, Health Canada has spent a total of $15.36 million (including a total of $222,531 spent by the Public Health Agency of Canada, an arm of Health Canada) on contracts for various cannabis education and awareness campaigns starting in 2017, leading up to legalization.
Much of that was allocated to contracts with media and communications firms for large country-wide advertising campaigns like the $7 million ‘Your Cannabis Questions Answered’ campaign, a multi-platform education initiative focused mainly on teens and young adults, which included advertising on social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
Another campaign dubbed ‘Pursue Your Passion’ aimed to encourage young Canadians to engage in creative hobbies and physical activities rather than using cannabis. That campaign cost $5.58 million and included a partnership with the Canadian Hockey League and an exhibit that travelled during the summer to events such as music festivals and fairs.
There was also a smattering of smaller campaigns, such as a ‘Parent Talk Kit’ that aimed to help parents talk to their children about cannabis use, an online quiz for students, as well as digital toolkits aimed at teachers and health professionals.
And remember those little postcards you received about legalization? They ran the government $2.39 million, paid mostly to Canada Post.
Although Health Canada spent the bulk of cash earmarked for cannabis initiatives so far, Public Safety Canada spent $2.85 million for public opinion research and TV, cinema, radio, mobile and social media advertising as part of its Don’t Drive High campaign, which aimed to raise awareness about the dangers of impaired driving.
The federal government’s total planned investment in cannabis public education, awareness and surveillance is $108.5 million over six years, which started in the 2017-18 fiscal year. That includes $62.5 million over five years announced in the 2018 budget to support community-based and Indigenous organizations in their education initiatives, distributed through Health Canada’s substance use and addictions program.
In addition to $18.21 million it has spent on its own public education campaigns, Ottawa also has funded 15 cannabis projects totaling about $14.8 million under the substance use and addictions program ( $10.5 million of that through 2018 budget resources) and is still accepting proposals.
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said teachers have been basically left to their own devices to educate students about recreational cannabis.
“At the moment, all teachers in Nova Scotia have received by way of tangible resources are some PDFs you can print and photocopy and pass out (and) links to websites where kids can go read stuff on their own.”
Moreover, Wozney said the information provided in those resources is very clinical in nature and not conducive to addressing the types of questions teachers are getting in class.
“Students don’t just want to know ‘Is it good for me, is it bad for me?’ (they) want to know ‘Do you use it yourself — why or why not?’” he said.
“What we don’t really have is a framework that allows us to facilitate a really intelligent, really responsible high degree of public trust kind of conversations where kids get medically valid age-appropriate information about recreational cannabis that will set them up for success,” he said.
Wozney said he recognizes it’s still early days, but he hopes to see some sort of cohesive curriculum developed either provincially or nationally to help teachers address cannabis concerns soon. And ideally, he said, the provinces would get help from Ottawa so they don’t have to eat into already-strapped education resources to do it.
IN THIS REGION
In an emailed media response, Health Canada said only two initiatives have been funded in the Atlantic region so far: $1.44 million over three years to the John Howard Society of New Brunswick for in-school programming for Grade 10 students across the Atlantic provinces, aimed at dispelling myths about drug-impaired driving; and a drug-driving leadership program to engage incarcerated youth in the region’s youth custodial centres.
A total of $967,381 over four years has also been provided to the Tri-County Women’s Centre for cannabis public education initiatives targeting youth and the general public in rural populations in Nova Scotia through ongoing youth workshops and a series of community forums.
Heather Fairbairn, Nova Scotia Department of Justice spokeswoman, said in 2018-19, Nova Scotia will spend about $625,000 on cannabis public education efforts, funded entirely by the province, and is in the process of working with a local stakeholder group to apply for federal funding for a targeted public health program.
In the meantime, Wozney said he’s concerned about how young people are filling in the gaps.
“The longer this goes the more students are going to turn to their peer networks, to the internet or whatever, to get information on this topic and that’s rarely a good thing for kids of that age,” he said. “That should be of concern to adults that are making decisions about this.”
Inside the NSLC’s cannabis shop in Yarmouth.
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
A cannabis plant.