Building on an event that took place this past winter, the University of Calgary has launched a video series on social media called “Clearing the Smoke.” This is part of the University’s Explore Cannabis web presence that was launched this spring.
As part of this initiative I also had a chance to collaborate with Dr. Matt Hill from the Hotchkiss Brain Institute on a UCalgary webinar, presenting on a topic we’ve tag-teamed on for a few different public talks: understanding the myths and misconceptions about what the research tells us about cannabis use and the adolescent brain and what the public health implications of cannabis legalization policy will be for young people. You can view a recording of the Youth and Cannabis Legalization webinar and access our presentation slides by quickly registering for access here. As someone who views myself as a public scholar it is great to see the UCalgary profiling this work and making it accessible to a broad audience. As we move closer to legalization in October it is clear that we still have so much work ahead of us in terms of helping people understand both the scientific and public health policy evidence that has informed cannabis legalization in Canada.
This week I was part of a panel discussion hosted by MLA for Calgary Mountainview Dr. David Swann, who brought together experts with diverse perspectives from Indigenous health and wellness, public health, law, policing and the City of Calgary, to discuss the risks and benefits of legalization. What I found resonated most with attendees was drawing from the public health evidence to talk about what we know about the prevalence of use and the risks of harm. Surprisingly to me, some people thought that prevalence of lifetime reported use* was already at 80-90%. In fact, what we know is that this is about 43% nationally and 48% for Alberta based on the most recent data from our major general population survey of substance use, Health Canada’s CTADS. In more recent past-year prevalence data from the CCS, which was designed to over-sample cannabis users** we see that reported use in the past 12 months was at 22% for those age 16+. So yes, cannabis is the most frequently used (currently) illicit drug, but based on these representative surveys of Canadians, we can still say that there are more people who are not using it than those who are. In short, nothing to panic about here!
You can watch the Facebook live recordings of the event here (I am the last speaker on the panel):
On February 6th the University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy hosted a cannabis townhall event, where a panel of speakers addressed the university community on the evidence and policy issues surrounding cannabis legalization. The event was moderated by Kathy Le from CTV Calgary, and coincidentally Cathy did a very good series in 2015, reporting on Calgary mother Sarah Wilkinson’s struggles to access medical cannabis for her daughter Mia, who has severe epilepsy. Sarah was one of the patient advocates who spoke at our O’Brien Forum on Cannabis and Public Health in May 2017.
Photo Credit: Justin Schellenberg (UC Gauntlet)
It was great to see such a strong turn out for this event and the high level of engagement from the campus community and members of the general public. I only wish we had more time to field audience questions, which is always the case! I was also struck by the fact that every time I do a public event like this I meet people from many different walks of life who want to tell me about their experiences – mainly positive, but also negative – with using cannabis. I am really curious to see how this conversation will broaden and shift among Canadians post-legalization. As I mentioned in my talk, I think we are going to see many more people admitting to using and also speaking out about the social stigma of having charges for cannabis possession.
Although no one really enjoys listening to themselves give a talk (especially when you have the voice of a 12-year-old, as I do), I was happy with the way this one turned out. You can hear the audio from my presentation, “Understanding the public health rationale for legalization in Canada,” as well as all of the other panelists, over on SoundCloud (thanks to Trevor Howell for capturing these recordings). You will also want to check out talks from my UCalgary colleagues Fiona Clement and Matt Hill.