U of A students want to ensure marijuana taxes don't go up in smoke

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U of A students want to ensure marijuana taxes don't go up in smoke

A group of students at the University of Alberta are lighting up a campaign calling for all taxes from marijuana sales to go towards mental health and addiction programs.

With his government expected to legalize recreational pot this summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed the potentially billions of dollars in tax revenues to public health and addiction strategies.

Students from the university's School of Public Health are pressing the Alberta government for the same commitment.

"We're aware there are potentially other priorities, but today we feel addictions and mental health is chronically under funded," said Stephanie Wilkes, a masters of nursing student.

With at least one in five Albertans expected to experience a mental health or addiction issue in the next year, it's an issue everyone should care about, she said.

People who need help are often unable to get it, said Prof. Cam Wild.

"About half of them report that they don't get service at all or don't get enough service when they seek care," Wild said, adding that would never be tolerated in other areas of health care such as cancer treatment.

Wild and Liberal leader Dr. David Swann, who co-chaired Alberta's mental health review, are throwing their support behind the campaign.

"Targeting a tax like a marijuana tax would not be a precedent for this government," Swann said. "We already target the carbon tax for specific environmental initiatives."

While reviewing the province's services, Swann said he discovered Alberta's mental health and addiction spending is lower than the national average.

He blames the lack of services on the deep cuts to healthcare made by former premier Ralph Klein in the 1990s.

The student group admits shooting for 100 per cent of marijuana tax revenues is a big demand, but will also save money in the long run not only in health care costs, but also in the justice system.

Alberta Health spokesperson Tim Wilson said it's too early to address taxation given no legislation has yet been tabled.

But, he said, mental health and addictions programs are priorities for the province