New Brunswick

Province doesn't need more 'potheads,' Green Party leader says

Citing potentially harmful effects of marijuana on youthful brains, Green Party Leader David Coon called Thursday for a comprehensive plan to educate the public about the drug, which will be legal within a year.

David Coon calls for stronger education plan about effects of marijuana use, especially on young

Green Party Leader David Coon says education the public about marijuana shouldn't be left to clerks in marijuana stores. (CBC)

Citing potentially harmful effects of marijuana on young brains, Green Party Leader David Coon called Thursday for a comprehensive plan to educate the public about the drug, which will be legal within a year.

"The last thing we need in the province is, you know, more potheads," Coon said in an interview with Information Morning Moncton.

The province announced Wednesday that NB Liquor will set up 20 stand-alone stores and train staff before the legalization of recreational marijuana in July 2018. 

Since the federal government promised to legalize pot, medical groups have expressed worry about harmful side-effects, especially on developing brains in people under the age of 25.

Alcohol is a far more dangerous drug and the government does nothing to inform New Brunswick of the risk of alcohol.-  David Coon, Green Party leader

In New Brunswick, 15 communities across the province will get government-owned pot stores, all at least 300 metres from schools and requiring identification from young people just to get inside the building. 

The government has not settled on a minimum age for marijuana use.

"One of the big concerns with the use of marijuana is for people under 25 because its potential impact on brain development," he said. 

Coon said he is not confident in Liberal government plans to make sure the public knows about the findings of research.

Few details about education plan

Finance Minister Cathy Rogers has said the province plans an education program about the harmful effects of marijuana, but the details have not been fleshed out.

She told Information Morning there will education in schools and in partnership with community groups, but the education model will begin with store clerks informing people of the risks of marijuana use.

But Coon predicted this model will fail. Clerks at NB Liquor aren't having those conversations about the risks of alcohol consumption, he said.

"Alcohol is a far more dangerous drug and the government does nothing to inform New Brunswick of the risk of alcohol," he said.

Alcohol already a problem with young

The province has one of the highest rates of "binge drinking" in the country.

"We already have significant consumption of marijuana by young people and we need to have less, and the government has not proved itself, so far, that this is a priority for them," Coon said. "So that has got to change."

Students in New Brunswick get some information about drugs as early as kindergarten, and the issue is included in the health curriculum in Grades 9 and 10, said Kelly Cormier, a spokesperson for the Education Department.

"Students are presented with clear, reliable and accurate information to develop skills to make healthy choices in all areas of health," Cormier wrote in an email.

Coon said he's not sure that selling marijuana through government-run stores will minimize substance abuse among young people, as the government hopes.

"They've got nothing in place to address the illegal trade of marijuana, that's really effective," he said. "In fact, they've recently, in the last year of so, cut the funding to the regional criminal investigation unit the setup to try and fight organized crime."

He said the New Brunswick Medical society would be the best resource for an informative education campaign.

"When you look at what's happening provincially, they just gutted the Medical Officer of Health Office of the staff and experts who could mount that kind of advertising campaign based on evidence," Coon said.

Cara Smith of the New Brunswick Medical Society said the group has not proposed any specific curriculum for educating young people but rather "on behalf of doctors made recommendations to the provincial government in our report on the legalisation of recreational marijuana."

"We've recommended that government approach public education campaigns with caution in order to educate the public in a way that does not unintentionally encourage the use of marijuana," she said. 

With files from Information Morning Moncton, Jacques Poitras and Elizabeth Fraser