With Canada set to legalize weed by next year—and all levels of government intent on keeping it away from babies—we can probably expect many public service announcements in the immediate future.
A new campaign, brought to us by licensed medical cannabis producer Beleave and R.I.D.E. Checks, is already underway with a focus on not driving high. In terms of sensationalism, it’s not exactly a huge departure from the “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E. propaganda of the past.
The “Consequence Strains” project consists of a number of dramatic, black and white YouTube videos that drill down on the message that driving stoned could cause fatal accidents. The creators also made up a series of posters featuring Consequence Strains of cannabis that come in three flavours: Kourtroom Kush indica, White Whiplash hybrid, and Slammer Time sativa.
The main video begins with audio clips taken from a focus group of people who all believe driving high is not that dangerous or is not as dangerous as driving drunk.
“I’m strongly against drinking and driving. It’s inappropriate, it’s selfish,” says one man, “but I have a completely different perspective of driving high.”
There’s foreboding music as we’re told the three Consequence Strains are actually “warnings disguised as three new strains.” The strains flash on screen and we read the not-so-subtle descriptions attached to each.
Kourtroom Kush is “an emotional joyride that doesn’t end well. This first time offender conjures up feelings of regret, shame and guilt.”
Meanwhile, White Whiplash “has been known to strike the perfect balance of misery and devastation. A similar outcome to someone suffering from the pain of an auto accident injury.” And Slammer Time often induces “feelings of remorse, paranoia, and isolation from the outside world. The same feelings as someone who’s been sentenced to life in prison for killing another driver or pedestrian.”
Roger Ferreria, chief science officer for licensed producer Beleave, then says he wanted people to know the consequences of driving high include “getting caught and being charged with a DUI, getting into an accident and potentially suffering from life changing injuries, or worse, killing another person and spending the rest of your life in prison.”
Adds neuroscientist Steven Laviolette, “I think there’s a public perception that marijuana, because it’s sort of a natural product, that it doesn’t have the same sorts of negative effects associated with alcohol use during driving. That is a dangerous perception.”
The video ends with a car crash reenactment. Beleave did not respond to VICE’s request for comment.
Rebecca Haines-Saah, a public health policy expert and professor at the University of Calgary, told VICE the campaign uses “the same old ‘scare tactic’ strategy” as other PSAs.
“I think it is cool they are doing something and trying but we just don’t have great evidence that this works,” she said.
There have been conflicting reports of the risks on stoned driving.
A recent investigation by the Denver Post showed the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for weed has been on the rise since the drug was legalized in 2012. However, the data doesn’t indicate whether or not drivers were actually high at the time of the crashes, because THC can live in someone’s system for weeks.
Other research has shown drunk driving is far more dangerous than driving stoned.
The Beleave/R.I.D.E. Checks campaign’s other three videos focus on questions like “Can They Tell If I’m High?” “Is Driving High Illegal?” and “What’s The Worse That Could Happen?”
We hear from an OPP officer who talks about (not-yet-approved) roadside saliva tests, and notes “if someone’s driving high and they end up in a twisted ball of metal… it is not worth the risk.”
One of the videos also highlights a 1999 car crash in which five teens were killed. A friend of the victims notes, the driver was “stoned.”
The driver of the crash pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and there was weed in his system, according to police. However, this campaign doesn’t note the fact that he was a teenager. Youth already have the highest risk of traffic injury and death per capita.
The campaign also cites a statistic that says 500,000 Canadians have admitted to driving high in the last year, a problem it claims “will only get worse.”
Haines-Saah challenged that assertion. “People are already driving high. I don’t think this will drastically increase.”