Students urge Alberta to use taxes on marijuana for mental health
Student advocates at the University of Alberta say addiction programs are badly underfunded, while substance abuse costs the province about $1 billion per year.
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EDMONTON — Some University of Alberta graduate students want the province to roll any tax revenue raised from the legal sale of marijuana into mental-health and addictions programs.
Student Advocates for Public Health say such programs are badly underfunded at a time when substance abuse is costing the province's health-care system about $1 billion a year.
"We are calling on Alberta's NDP government to reinvest 100 per cent of cannabis sales tax revenue into Alberta's addiction and mental-health strategy," group spokeswoman Stephanie Wilkes said Thursday.
"We are asking that the revenue be directed to prevention within our youth population and in access to early intervention and treatment programs."
The Trudeau Liberals have said they plan to introduce legislation this spring to legalize and regulate the recreational use of pot, but it is not clear when a bill would be put to a final vote.
The students say data suggests cannabis use by young people in Canada is higher than for other drugs and many start using it as early as late elementary school. The group said almost one out of four youths use marijuana regularly.
Wilkes, 31, noted that the Alberta government has directed the carbon tax to programs that focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"This is a new opportunity, like the carbon tax, to direct a tax to an underfunded program," said Wilkes, who is studying to become a nurse practitioner.
There is no reason why it couldn't directly link money raised from legal pot sales to bolstering addiction and mental-health services, she suggested.
A federal task force recommended late last year that federal and provincial governments use money raised from legal cannabis sales to fund prevention, education and treatment programs.
The student group does not have a position on whether legalizing marijuana is a good idea and has no estimate on how much money Alberta might raise in cannabis taxes.
The province has said it expects to have rules in place by next year to govern the sale of marijuana for recreational use.