Cannabis awareness program targeted to high school students launches in Windsor-Essex

The Windsor-Essex Community Opioid and Substance Strategy (WECOSS) is launching a new, cannabis awareness program targeted toward youth, developed with the input of more than 150 high school students.

School board representatives worked with WECOSS partners, including the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and the region's school boards to take the feedback they heard from students and develop a social media and school-based program related to the potential harms of cannabis.

"Myself and our youth engagement specialists were able to go out into schools and converse with youth directly," said Ashleigh Atkinson, youth health promotion specialist at WECHU. "We managed to go into six different schools — going into eight different classrooms.

"Our main purpose of this work was to really find out what they needed to know ... and most importantly, how we can reach them most effectively — finding out what platforms worked for them and what messaging they would pay attention to."

Sanjay Maru/CBC

What did they learn?

Steven Bellaire, principal of safe schools with the Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board, sits on the WECOSS prevention and education committee.

Discussions with students started about a year ago. Here's what he said the committee learned:

  • Advertise on Snapchat and Instagram. Avoid Facebook since the platform isn't preferred among high school students.
  • Stay away from lecture-style messaging.
  • Avoid attaching the messaging to an agency that would be seen as pushing its own agenda.
  • Keep the ads short and to the point.

"These recommendations came directly from the students and we have followed them in this campaign," said Bellaire.

Myself and our youth engagement specialists were able to go out into schools and converse with youth directly. - Ashleigh Atkinson

The campaign, called Higher Education, launched Monday and will continue throughout the remainder of the year. According to WECOSS, physical advertisements will begin appearing in schools in early 2020.

Atkinson said it's important for high school students to understand that cannabis is "not the safe drug that youth seem to really think that it is."

"We're also including some stuff with the edible products which are now being made legal," said Atkinson. "Really just making them just think twice about where they're getting it from ... and what else could be in edible products."