Ads aim to dispel myth that driving on cannabis is acceptable

The Liberal government is preparing an ad campaign warning young Canadians that marijuana and driving don't mix.

Young Canadians targeted in new Liberal ads warning of the risks of cannabis behind the wheel

The Liberal government is planning a $2-million ad campaign targeting Canadians ages 16 to 24, to dispel the myth that cannabis does not impair driving. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

The Liberal government is preparing an ad campaign especially targeting young Canadians who think that driving under the influence of marijuana is acceptable.

Public Safety Canada is looking for a creative agency to produce spots for the $1.9-million campaign, to be rolled out before recreational cannabis becomes legal next summer.

The ads also aim to "reduce [the] percentage of Canadians that say they would be likely to accept a ride from someone under the influence of marijuana."

A public tender for creative work on the multimedia campaign – running to March 31, 2018, and possibly four years beyond – was posted this week. The $1.9-million ad buy itself will be handled by Cossette Communications Inc., the federal government's agency of record, and by AdGear Technologies, Inc., for digital ads.

16 to 24

The primary audience for the campaign on social media, print, radio and TV is young Canadians, ages 16 to 24, with their parents as a secondary target.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould promised a "robust" public-awareness campaign in April, when she also introduced Bill C-46, giving police more powers at curbside to nab alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced Bill C-46 in April, giving police more powers to combat impaired driving, including drivers using cannabis. (CBC)

The bill, not yet passed, would allow police to take an oral-fluid sample, saliva, from any driver they have reason to suspect of being on drugs, including cannabis.

Public Safety Canada ran a smaller video campaign earlier this year, in support of pilot project to test new roadside devices for screening oral fluids obtained from drivers. "Consuming marijuana doubles your chance of a car accident," warned one of the videos.

A quarter of Canadians have driven while high

This new campaign draws on public-opinion polling from last summer, which suggested more than a quarter of Canadians have at some time driven a vehicle under the influence of marijuana. The percentage rises to 42 per cent among recent users.

The public education campaign needs a special focus on youth to dispel the myth that cannabis use leads to better driving- Nov. 30, 2016, federal task force report on legalization of cannabis

The EKOS poll, commissioned by Health Canada, also found more than a third of those surveyed said they had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone using marijuana, rising to 42 per cent among young adults, ages 19-24, and to 70 per cent among all recent users.

Some participants in other Health Canada focus groups even had a few participants "stating that they felt that some people they knew were better drivers when they were under the influence of cannabis compared to when they were sober."

The coming national campaign follows similar ads against drug-impaired driving launched in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, where cannabis has been legalized, as well as in Alberta.

MADD supports initiative

Other Canadian groups have also recently launched similar ads, including the Canadian Automobile AssociationDrug Free Kids Canada and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

MADD's chief executive officer Andrew Murie welcomed the Liberal government's new campaign, saying the timing was right in the run-up to legalization next year.

Anne McLellan led the federal task force on marijuana, whose November report urged a public-awareness campaign to warn Canadians about the risks of cannabis and driving. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
MADD has recently pivoted its own impaired-driving campaigns, traditionally focused on alcohol, to produce three new cannabis-related spots this year, which run for free in many outlets as public-service ads.

Last November, a blue-ribbon panel created to advise the federal government on legalization drew attention to the increased risks of impaired driving, calling for research into intoxication levels, development of screening devices, new penalties and better enforcement.

But its first recommendation was "a robust and ongoing national public education campaign [that] requires proper funding and implementation as soon as possible, prior to legalization.

"Furthermore, the public education campaign needs a special focus on youth to dispel the myth that cannabis use leads to better driving."

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter


Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby