News / Edmonton

Invest marijuana revenue into youth mental health, medical students urge

A group of students from the University of Alberta and University of Calgary met with officials at the legislature Monday

Howie Wu, spokesperson for the U of A Medical Students Association.

Kevin Maimann / Metro Edmonton

Howie Wu, spokesperson for the U of A Medical Students Association.

Medical students are calling on the Alberta government to invest cannabis tax dollars into mental health programs for youth.

A group of students from the University of Alberta and University of Calgary met with officials at the legislature Monday, urging them to create a youth mental health and addictions fund before legalization takes effect in July 2018.

“We believe that with cannabis legalization, this is an opportunity to refocus a lot of the conversation on mental health onto the social determinants of health, and primary prevention,” said Howie Wu, spokesperson for the U of A Medical Students Association.

“Studies have shown that those are the things that actually prevent youth from developing mental illness, and from developing issues like cannabis dependency.”

Wu said that while some evidence on cannabis is still unclear, what is clear is that teens and young adults are the heaviest users and will be disproportionately affected by any adverse effects, and it's important for the province to mitigate the risk.

He said officials have been receptive to the idea, and noted New Brunswick and Quebec are creating similar education and prevention funds.

U of C medical student Adom Bondzi-Simpson said he would like to see the money used for upstream prevention programs targeting youth ages 15-25, as well as psychotherapy and other forms of treatment.

“We know that certain people that may be predisposed to underlying mental health and illness conditions may be kind of tipped over the edge, so to speak, with cannabis,” he said.

Provinces have been calling on the federal government to commit a bigger portion of tax dollars from weed, saying they are being forced to shoulder most of the costs to implement legalization.

On Monday, the Canadian Press learned that federal finance Minister Bill Morneau and his officials signalled a willingness to increase the provincial share.

The feds have previously proposed proposed giving provincial and territorial governments half of the estimated $1-billion annual excise tax take once weed becomes legal.

Wu acknowledged the province might not have funds to create robust mental health programs in the first few years following legalization, but said a plan should be in place for when the money does roll in.

“We know that at the beginning it will be tough, and that’s why it’s important to have these conversations now,” Wu said.

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