A grassroots network of Canadian youth is aiming to change the conversation around teens and cannabis. The Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) launched a resource guide this week providing educators and parents pointers on how to openly talk to young people about the drug as Canada moves closer to legalization.
Titled “The Sensible Cannabis Education: A Toolkit for Educating Youth,” it encourages open, non-judgmental dialogue with youth. It’s a sharp shift from the tone of traditional education and government campaigns, which generally focus on abstinence and fear-mongering.
"What people fail to recognize when we have those abstinence-based models is that there are young people that are choosing to use cannabis, despite the warnings that they’ve been told," CSSDP vice-chair Michelle Thiessen tells Lift News. "By not providing education to those people, that's a huge disservice. We should be equipping all people with the information they need to make choices that are best for themselves."
Marijuana use is notably widespread among Canadian youth. According to 2015 Statistics Canada data, the average age of first-time cannabis use was 17 for both males and females. Cannabis use was most prevalent among youth between the ages of 15 and 19 at 21 per cent, and young adults aged 20 to 24 at 30 per cent.
The Canadian government’s youth-focused anti-drug campaigns have traditionally focused on the "Just Say No" model pioneered by the U.S. in their war on drugs.
Jenna Valleriani, Strategic Advisor for CSSDP, stresses that it’s time to take a different approach to drug education, one that involves evidenced-based data rather than scare tactics. Looping parents into the conversation is also key, since there's often a lack of consistency between what young people hear at home and what they hear at school and in the community.
But she acknowledges that there's no one way to talk to all Canadian youth.
"We know a lot of things that don't work in cannabis education, but we're still figuring out what does work," she says. "What adds a layer of complexity is that young people are really diverse. The conversations have to be age appropriate."
The toolkit was built with input from university-age students, reviewed by several adult experts and scientists, and funded by an “unrestricted grant” from Canopy Growth, a licensed producer based in Smiths Falls, Ont. It includes ten guiding principles for cannabis education, such as delivery by a trained facilitator or peer, starting education earlier, using age-appropriate content and paying attention to overlapping issues of racism and social justice.
"We're trying to flip the script of what's been the status quo for so long,” Thiessen says of the current prohibition-based attitudes. "By having these principals guide this new era of cannabis education, we're not only doing a service to young people who have a right to this information, we're also reducing the stigma that surrounds cannabis."
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