Drug Free Kids Canada (DFKC) Interview
Drug Free Kids Canada is a non-governmental registered charity with a vision to ensure that “all young people will be able to live their lives free of drug or alcohol abuse.” They focus on prevention and treatment and believe that “educating and informing parents/kids can make an important difference in helping to reduce drug abuse and addiction. Their motto and creed is “We're here to help”.
Jolene Forman | Staff Attorney
What is DFKC’s mission and how do you go about fulfilling your objectives?
The DFKC’s vision is to ensure that all young people will be able to live their lives free of drug or alcohol abuse. We are a non-profit, non-governmental organization made up of a community of parents committed to the prevention of drug abuse by young people. Our volunteer parent partners come from the private sector; and represent major media, advertising, production, scientific, medical, research and corporate industries. We believe that educating and informing parents and kids about substance use can make an important difference in helping to reduce drug abuse and addiction.
To fulfill these objectives, we’ve built a comprehensive website to help parents learn more about drugs and the issues surrounding their misuse, teen substance use, and helpful parenting tips. We also provide parents with the tools they need to talk to their kids with things like the ‘Cannabis Talk Kit’, our ‘Parent Drug Guide’, and the upcoming ‘Opioid Talk Kit’.
We raise awareness about youth drug issues with the help of advertising agencies and media partners to create drug education/prevention PSA messaging - about high driving, talking to kids about drugs, prescription drug use and an annual medicine take back campaign - that runs on TV, radio, print and digital media across Canada.
What is the DFKC's stance on Marijuana legalization?
As an organization, we don’t advocate, so the word stance is quite strong. DFKC is not opposed to the legalization of cannabis. In fact, we feel that the legalization of cannabis can have several benefits; including quality control of the product, more research into medical applications, and more scientific data about its effects.
The concerns we have are centered on underage youth access and high driving. Canadian youth (15 -24) are already among the top users of cannabis in the developed world. Cannabis is often the first substance offered to younger kids and we wonder if legalization will affect youths’ perception – ‘if it’s legal it must be okay to use’. The legal age for non-medical cannabis consumption is 18 or 19, the same as alcohol or tobacco – but underage kids are accessing those substances.
Over the years, we’ve all become aware that alcohol and tobacco seriously impact physical and mental health, and we want to make parents aware that regular cannabis use by a young person can impact the brain’s development, and affect their mental health. It’s also important to understand the high driving statistics. Many young Canadians get into a car with a driver who has consumed cannabis.
40.9% of youth aged 16 to 19 and 55.6% of those 20 to 24 reported being a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had used cannabis in the past 2 hours. In 2017, youth who participated in a qualitative research study by the CCSA believed that cannabis-impaired driving was safer, or less dangerous, than alcohol-impaired driving.
Within the new cannabis landscape we will continue to do what we’ve always done – educate parents and anyone working with kids, teachers, health professionals, etc. about cannabis and its impacts on youth in an attempt to delay early experimentation, promote open and honest discussions, and help families reduce the harm if their teen has already initiated use.
How much governmental control/regulation should Canada implement with regards to Marijuana legalization?
That is something that was addressed in the position paper we put out in 2014:
Back then, we felt that a responsible regulatory framework for legalized cannabis should include the following elements:
- Appropriate limits (including consideration of zero tolerance) for the presence of a drug while driving
- Restriction of big industries (e.g., tobacco, alcohol)
- Equal or greater restriction of advertising/promotion of use, as in the case of tobacco
- Distribution to be limited to government or licenced outlets
- Regulation of permissible quantities to be purchased (e.g., >1 oz.)
- Clear requirements for producers and distributors of marijuana with respect to maximum THC content, other components, quality control, product testing, record keeping, etc.
- Once appropriate impairment levels are set, same penalties as for alcohol-impaired driving
- Controls for sale or supply to those younger than the minimum age limits to be established, combined with severe penalties for non-licensed distributors
- Regulation of packaging, advertising, internet and mail order sales
What are the biggest risks to children/adolescents in regards to marijuana?
The biggest risk to children and adolescents is high driving – being a passenger in a car with someone who is driving high puts them at serious risk of harm from a crash.
Another risk is unknowingly consuming cannabis. At present, in Canada, cannabis edibles won’t be sold legally until 2019. That said, cookies and candies can be and are made at home, and they can contain amounts of cannabis that can hurt a young child, or negatively affect someone who doesn’t know what they contain. It’s important for parents to know that 90% of addiction begins with substance use in adolescence and the cost of substance use and addiction to our society is in the billions.
Problematic cannabis use can have an effect on a young person’s mental health, exacerbating issues like depression or anxiety, and although it’s a small percentage, there is a chance that an underlying psychiatric issue, like psychosis, can be triggered with regular use.
We advise parents to explore with their kids the impact of early use of cannabis (and other substances) in a child’s life and explain to their kids that the use of any of these substances while still in their teens or younger can significantly increase the risk of problems with their health, education, and social life.
What does the DFKC say about the human health concerns raised by medical professionals in regards to Marijuana consumption?
The scientific community has done many important studies. The advantage to these studies is that they are done without bias, using the scientific method – they’re not hearsay, nor are they trying to push a product. We feel it’s important to cut through the emotional rhetoric that comes from both sides of the cannabis issue and just deal with the facts.
As time goes on, we’ll be able to look at the increased amount of scientific data to find that there will be studies that can show more clearly the positive and negative effects of cannabis, both medically and non-medically on humans.
What should Canadian parents be focusing on in regards to marijuana legalization?
Parents should focus on the health and well being of their kids. The legalization of cannabis doesn’t change that. What the spotlight on cannabis has contributed to is an increased awareness on the part of the public that maybe it is time to sit down and speak with young people about the things that are troubling them. Kids often turn to cannabis or other substances for many reasons; they may be trying to fit, feel accepted, or use cannabis because it makes them feel good. They may use to self medicate in coping with stress, anxiety, or to help them get to sleep. Kids who are dealing with anxiety, bullying, ADHD, or anything that causes them concern should be able to go and speak to their parent or adult about their worries (so they can choose healthier alternatives to cope).
What parents can do is be there for their kids, provide their pre-teens and teens an open and safe environment in which they can, as a family, talk calmly about the important issues that are affecting kids’ lives and work together.
What is DFKC’s reaction to the Canadian legalization model implemented by PM Trudeau? Is there anything your organization takes issue with or would want to change and or add?
We don’t have any comment on the way legalization has been implemented nor do we take issue with anything. One thing we would like to see is greater attention paid to youth mental health. As a non-profit our focus is prevention, but we know that there are many families going through substance use issues - they need education, support and better ways of reducing the harm caused by substances, as well as intervention and treatment support.
Does the DFKC prefer legalization over decriminalization?
Well, cannabis has been already legalized, but we looked at these options with the view to which protects youth the most. Decriminalization of cannabis basically just means loosening the penalties for personal use.
The legalisation of cannabis for non-medical use requires that the cultivation, sale and distribution of cannabis come under governmental jurisdiction, effectively getting rid of a black market and allowing for quality control, sale by licenced producers and prohibiting retail sale to minors.
How can Canadians access your information and services?