Cannabis Public Education Activities

Backgrounder

Cannabis legalization and regulation

Canada has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, particularly among youth and young adults. Through the Cannabis Act and its regulations, the Government of Canada seeks to better protect the health and safety of Canadians, keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, and keep profits from criminals and organized crime.

Public health approach

The Government of Canada is taking a public health approach to the legalization and regulation of cannabis. Its aim is to:

  • raise awareness of health and safety facts of cannabis use;
  • prevent problematic cannabis use;
  • promote healthy choices;
  • protect youth by restricting access to cannabis;
  • prevent drug-impaired driving;
  • strictly regulate the cannabis supply chain;
  • monitor cannabis use patterns; and
  • ensure industry compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements.

Public education

Public education efforts are fundamental to achieving the Government’s objective of protecting public health and safety, especially for youth. By disseminating clear, consistent and evidence-based information on the health and safety facts about cannabis, the Government of Canada is enabling Canadians to make informed choices and to better understand the risks of cannabis use.

The total planned investment in cannabis public education, awareness and surveillance is more than $100 million over six years. Through Budget 2018, the Government has proposed to invest $62.5 million over five years to support the involvement of community-based organizations and Indigenous organizations that are educating their communities on the risks associated with cannabis use. This funding builds on the previously announced investment of $46 million over five years to support public education, awareness and surveillance activities. 

Early federal efforts related to public education focused on building the evidence base to inform cannabis public education and awareness initiatives. These early efforts included:

  • conducting public opinion research to understand Canadians’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours related to cannabis and drug-impaired driving;
  • undertaking market research to inform approaches for campaigns to reach youth, young adults and parents;
  • understanding lessons learned from other jurisdictions such as Colorado and Washington State to glean insight on priority audiences, messaging and timing for public education campaigns; and
  • engaging stakeholders, including through a national symposium in November 2017 with more than 90 organizations that are active in delivering public education and awareness activities. 

Federal public education activities to date

The Government of Canada’s public education activities about cannabis are supporting a national dialogue on the health and safety facts about cannabis.

Focused advertising and marketing campaigns

Since the spring of 2017, Health Canada has engaged in an ongoing digital and social media campaign focused on reaching parents. This campaign includes advertising, social media, web content, and local media articles and radio spots.

Public Safety Canada launched the Don’t Drive High campaign in November 2017 to raise awareness about drug-impaired driving and effect behaviour change. This multi-year public education and awareness campaign is in its second year.

The first year of the campaign saw the successful launch of a targeted digital campaign with a dedicated Facebook presence and a campaign page on Canada.ca. A key component of this campaign was its robust advertising campaign that featured both traditional tactics (television, cinema, and out-of- home signage in restaurants, bars, and transit) and digital tactics (social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify, YouTube, as well as an online game and interactive chatbot).

Post-campaign results demonstrated the efficacy of this evidence-based strategic approach, with 62% of 16-24 year olds surveyed having recalled seeing, reading or hearing a drug-impaired driving ad from the Government of Canada.

The second year of the Don’t Drive High campaign launched in July 2018. Its goal is to continue to raise awareness among Canadian youth aged 16-24 that cannabis and other drugs impair driving ability, and that driving under the influence of drugs is illegal. Advertising for this campaign is currently in market and will run until October 2018.

In March 2018, Health Canada launched the next phase of its cannabis health facts advertising campaign, entitled Your Cannabis Questions, Answered. Get the Honest Facts. This campaign features cannabis subject matter experts answering questions from Canadians. Phase 1 of the campaign ran from March 2018 to June 2018 on social media channels regularly used by youth and young adults and garnered close to 42 million impressions. Phase 2 of the campaign started in June 2018 and is running until September 2018. The campaign encourages young Canadians to visit the Government of Canada’s cannabis web portal, Canada.ca/cannabis, to learn more. To date, the Phase 2 ads have garnered more than 27.3 million impressions.

In July 2018, Health Canada launched the Pursue Your Passion interactive engagement tour. This exhibit is helping youth and young adults and their parents learn about the health and safety facts about cannabis while encouraging them to focus on making positive lifestyle choices. The tour is travelling across Canada and appearing at local events, festivals and fairs.

Strategic partnerships

Partnerships are essential to the Government’s public education efforts to help communicate, complement and extend the reach of its health and safety messages about cannabis.

To date, the Government of Canada has partnered with a number of organizations, including:

  • Drug Free Kids Canada
  • Canadian Automobile Association
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  • Young Drivers of Canada
  • Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Canadian Public Health Association
  • Canadian Hockey League
  • Canadian Nurses Association
  • Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
  • Schizophrenia Society of Canada
  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
  • University of Western Ontario
  • Health Nexus

Provincial, territorial and Indigenous engagement

Health Canada and Public Safety Canada have established working groups with the provinces and territories that have been meeting regularly since May 2017 to discuss and coordinate public education and awareness activities.

The federal government is also engaging with Indigenous organizations and communities to work with them in raising awareness about the health and safety facts of cannabis use. Actions currently under way include:

  • translation of existing public education resources into Indigenous languages and dialects, such as Inuktitut;
  • funding for Thunderbird Partnership Foundation to lead regional dialogue sessions and town halls on cannabis with Indigenous communities across Canada; and
  • working with the Métis National Council to increase Métis engagement and to support the development of targeted public education activities.

Federal departments will continue to work with Indigenous leaders to help ensure that a culturally appropriate approach to public education meets the needs of Indigenous communities.

Public education projects on the horizon

As Canada prepares for the implementation of a new legislative and regulatory framework for cannabis, public education campaigns will be expanded to help Canadians understand the new legal framework and share responsible use information for legal-aged adults. The campaigns will continue to reinforce messages on the health and safety facts about cannabis, border and travel information and drug impaired driving.

Health Canada also continues to accept proposals for cannabis-related projects through its Substance Use and Addictions Program. Health Canada is currently soliciting additional proposals from national, community-based and Indigenous organizations.

Projects currently being considered for funding include:

  • tools and resources for educators to raise awareness of cannabis risks and harms, help with positive youth development and prevent problematic substance use among students;
  • tools and resources for health professionals to help them provide Canadians with credible, evidence-based advice on cannabis use;
  • outreach to target populations;
  • public education in rural and northern communities; and
  • drug-impaired driving education that engages young Canadians.

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