With legalization approaching, training material for Quebec cannabis stores isn't finished

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Quebec's new cannabis agency has yet to finish the final details of its training materials for employees, despite the fact it hopes to open about 20 retail stores across Quebec in just over a month.

Nonetheless, the roughly 300 people who will work for the Quebec cannabis agency (SQDC) will be expected to educate the public about the product, and the risks associated with it, when they start work.

CBC has filed access to information requests for the training documents and materials with three provincial organizations: the SAQ, which is overseeing the new cannabis agency, the Quebec Health Ministry, and the CHUM, Montreal's French-language superhospital, which is a partner in the process.

All three entities say they either have no such documents, or that the material is not finished yet.

"The SAQ is finalizing the preparation of the pedagogical material that will be used to train SQDC employees," SAQ spokesperson Mathieu Gaudreault wrote in an email.

"We are actively working with our partners (the health ministry and the CHUM) in order to offer our future employees complete training that responds to the government's expectations. This documentation will be approved by our partners soon."

Quebec Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois has said retail staff at Quebec's cannabis stores would be trained to educate the public. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The public health minister has repeatedly said that public education will be an essential part of the sale of legal marijuana, and that front-line retail staff would play a key role in that endeavour.

"People are going to be trained precisely to inform people who are going to buy cannabis," said Lucie Charlebois on the day she tabled Bill 157, which regulates cannabis in Quebec.

"The people that are selling now, they're not very preoccupied with the health of the consumer and which products [they are selling]."

Plans should have been made long ago, groups say

"I don't understand how the plan is not already made," said Émilie Dansereau-Trahan, content expert with the Association pour la santé publique du Québec, a non-profit group that educates the public about cannabis.

The province should have begun drawing up its educational material when the Trudeau government was elected three years ago, she said. Quebec has had all summer since the provincial bill was passed to finalize its plans.

She said she's worried because if consumers aren't educated, they may not be conscious of the potential risks.

The non-profit group GRIP, which provides harm-reduction training for counsellors and other professionals, is concerned the SAQ will not have time to consult outside experts before finalizing the material.

Émilie Dansereau-Trahan spoke on behalf of the Association pour la santé publique du Québec during the National Assembly hearings for Quebec's cannabis bill.

Project manager Alexane Langevin believes the public needs access to information beyond the drug's physical and medical effects.

She said they need to learn the conditions that make the use of marijuana less risky, including how to avoid negative effects when consuming it.

"When do you use? Have you planned what you will do if you feel anxious, if you feel your experience is difficult? Do you have somebody to call?" she said.

"I am still worried that we are going to miss this opportunity."

For Université de Montréal associate professor Jean-Sébastien Fallu, who founded GRIP, the fact that the SAQ has not finalized the material is not a concern because that can be done in a matter of days.

However, the psycho-education expert says he is surprised that he was not consulted, and will be watching closely to see what the training finally contains.

"That's my main interest as a researcher," he said.

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