Seeing Through Canada’s Anti-Marijuana Campaign

EspañolMarijuana will ruin teenagers, Canada’s most important resource. At least that’s the message of the federal government’s latest fear-mongering, anti-drug campaign.

In October, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority government initiated their latest attempt to educate the Canadian public on the ostensible dangers of marijuana — and viewership numbers suggest it is the most successful campaign to date. Upon closer inspection, however, one can see that Canadians are starting to see through the smoke and mirrors.

Circulated through YouTube, the 30-second advertisement — part of the larger, multi-platform campaign — has more than 500,000 views. That has already obliterated the department’s previous record of 110,000 on their official YouTube channel, for a similar campaign that targeted teen prescription drug abuse. For perspective, standard uploads to the “Healthy Canadians” moniker see traffic in the hundreds.

While viewership is up, approval is not. Criticism has been rampant since the ad was released, and with good reason. The commercial itself shows pot smoke blowing through glass tubes shaped as a human brain. A portentous voice then warns viewers of the serious consequences of marijuana. The ad finishes by hinting at the increased strength of the drug in modern times, remarking how its use lowers IQ, as it plays a solemn chord from the Canadian national anthem, a staple from all federal government ads.

But there’s a problem: the public service announcement doesn’t stem from any type of health concern whatsoever; instead, it’s an arrogant, offensive election grenade. And the Canadian public sees right through the insult.

Not only is the ad misinformation — the video fails to name a single source — it’s a not-so-subtle attack on the leader of the opposition, Justin Trudeau. And with that, the ad is revealed for what it really is: a political ploy.

Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. (CBC)
Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. (JT Facebook)

Trudeau, the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, is the current leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, and he has come out strongly in favor of marijuana legalization. So with a federal election likely to happen in the fall of 2015, the surfacing of attack ads is not surprising.

For context, Trudeau let his position be known in July of 2013: “I’m actually not in favor of decriminalizing cannabis — I’m in favor of legalizing it,” he stated at the time. “Tax and regulate. It’s one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids, because the current war on drugs, the current model [that Stephen Harper employs] isn’t working.”

That resulted in another misguided and inaccurate public service announcement from the conservatives, which can be seen here, where they purported: “Imagine, selling marijuana just like cigarettes and alcohol.”

And this latest PSA is simply an extension of that failed logic. Further revealing how off base the program is, the campaign didn’t receive support from many leading medical experts in Canada.

“The educational campaign has now become a political football on Canada’s marijuana policy,” the College of Family Physicians, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada said in a joint statement explaining why they wouldn’t be participating in the Conservatives’ ad campaign. “We did not, and do not, support or endorse any political messaging or political advertising on this issue.”

Hedy Fry, a Liberal MP and health committee member, reinforced the now-popular position by stating that the conservatives aren’t interested in voicing marijuana’s benefits. Instead of inciting fear and playing politics with people’s lives, he said, they should be encouraging research and clinical trials on the drug.

Aside from PSA’s effectiveness being unproven — “All the research suggests they don’t work. They are not cost-effective,” Professor Harry Sumnall of Liverpool John Moore’s University for Public Health told the BBC last year — studies, like this from the Washington Post, remain inconclusive about marijuana’s effect on the human brain.

If the party were really concerned about the health effects on Canada’s youth — Canadian teens lay claim to the highest cannabis use in the world, a point that we as a nation must address — they would promote the legalization of the substance. Through regulation, they would be able to control and alleviate many of the same concerns their PSA puts forth.

In either case, the promotion of marijuana to children and teens is not on the agenda. However, accurate, informed, and appropriately allotted taxpayer dollars ought to be.

Marijuana is 300 percent stronger today than thirty years ago? Legalize and monitor its cultivation, to mitigate the alleged dangerous conditions of black markets.

Talk to our kids about the dangers of marijuana use? First, cease from making PSAs rife with misinformation that Canada’s youth, especially those who have already indulged, know is inaccurate.

Want to get through to our youth directly? Stop using condescending and fear-mongering tactics that push them further away.

Health concerns should be the nation’s priority, and individual decisions should be left to the individuals. With patronizing campaigns like the latest from the conservatives, they continue to send the message that we don’t have the mental capacity to make those decisions on our own. If this were about concrete solutions, and not the votes of the parents of Canada’s youth, that money would most certainly be allotted elsewhere. Harper’s government must think we’re all operating at their preconceived levels of weed-induced, lessened mental capacity.

Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

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