Liberals want to know what Canadians think of legalized weed

The federal government will comb social media for Canadians’ pot-related behaviour

The federal government is looking to scour social-media platforms to find out what Canadians really think about pot as the country enters its new era of legalized weed.

With only a few weeks to go before the end of recreational marijuana prohibition, Ottawa is seeking an outside contractor to help the government learn more about Canadians’ attitudes and behaviours when it comes to legalized cannabis.

Federal officials want to go deeper than the data they have gleaned from public opinion surveys.

RELATED: Ontario first to release plan to sell and distribute marijuana

The Liberals vowed to legalize recreational cannabis in their 2015 election platform as a way to take black-market profits away from criminals, including organized crime.

But weed’s legalization on Oct. 17 will thrust the country into unknown territory on many levels — from policing, to health, to public awareness. The government is still in an information-gathering mode.

A new government tendering notice posted this week describes a project that will collect marijuana-related information on Canadians — from how often and where people light up, to what the type of buds users prefer, to criminal activities.

For example, the government hopes the effort will help it design communications strategies to address specific public safety risks, such as driving while high.

“Overall, this research intends to inform policies surrounding public safety issues that accompany cannabis legalization,” reads the notice, which was posted Wednesday.

“Exploring public perceptions of cannabis use and related behaviours is key to developing a better understanding of how best to communicate to the general public about the risk of use and engaging in certain behaviours.”

The winning bidder will use algorithms to sift through and extract data from social-media sources, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In the process, the government also wants the contractor to capture and explore corresponding individual-level data, including details on the age, sex and location — such as the province or territory — of the social-media users.

RELATED: Two-thirds of current pot users will switch to legal retailers, survey suggests

The document, posted by Public Safety Canada, calls the approach a form of sentiment analysis — or “opinion mining.”

“Social media data is arguably more unconstrained and rich in detail than self-report survey data,” the notice said.

“When complemented by self-report survey data, social media data can provide policy-makers with a more complete picture of how the public perceives cannabis use and related behaviours in the current pre-legalization context.”

It also noted that self-report surveys can generate a wealth of information about citizens’ attitudes and behaviours related to marijuana. However, it pointed out that these surveys are susceptible to a number of biases — such as the closed-ended nature of questions — that can affect the quality of the data.

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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