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Local health officials are looking to clear the air when it comes to youth driving under the influence of marijuana.
As the legalization of recreational marijuana approaches in Canada, there is increasing concern that there will be a growing use of cannabis, particularly among youth, posing further road safety risks.
This has local health officials gearing up to join the ‘Weed Out the Risk’ initiative aimed at educating youth by dispelling some of the myths and misconceptions about getting behind the wheel high. The program launched by Springboard, a community based organization offers supports to at-risk youth and adults. It is touted as having facilitators who engage youth by being blunt but not pointing fingers. They use real talk that youth can relate to such as ‘weed, piff, kush, lit, ball up and spark up.’
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health nurse Kerri Jianopoulos told the board on Wednesday that are teaming up with the Quinte Regional Traffic Coalition with the hope of rolling out the programming to high school students from Grades 10 to 12 this spring.
“We don’t know what will happen when the legislation does come out so we are trying to be proactive,” said Jianopoulos. “A lot of the training is very interactive and designed to engage youth on the risks of cannabis and driving.”
According to research by Springboard, cannabis use has become a “normalized” behavior among many youth with 41% indicating they have no concerns about smoking and driving. In one in five accidents, people under 18 test positive for weed. At the age of 29 it has been as high as 50 percent.
ianopoulos agreed the misconception is out there that smoking marijuana doesn’t affect your ability to drive and they want to stop it dead in its tracks.
“Cannabis definitely impairs your ability to drive safely,” she explained. “It affects your coordination, ability to judge distances, decision making and ability to react. A lot of people maybe don’t see it the same as being impaired by alcohol. So it’s really important for us to get that message out – ‘if you’re going to be using cannabis, you shouldn’t be driving.’
Training will begin with 10 local police officers on February 27 at Quinte West council chambers. From there the officers will head to schools within their area to educate students on the dangers.
“It is going to be a huge issue for us,” Quinte West OPP constable David Luddington said speaking to what he predicts will be a problem on roadways once marijuana is legalized. “Right now the numbers are not staggering as alcohol but the numbers are out there and when marijuana is legalized we might see the numbers go up.”
Luddington who is a member of the coalition said it is a priority for their detachment to train officers to determine if people have been using drugs.
“They are able to determine if people are using drugs such as coordination tests by looking at different aspects of body movements,” he said. “Anything we can do to make roads safer and educate the public on the perils of marijuana the better.