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Expert Says: Keep the Legal Age for Cannabis Use Low

Created on Thursday, 03 Aug 2017 01:00:00

A Canadian addiction studies researcher has a simple solution to keep kids away from drugs: keep the legal age for marijuana use low.

As Canada drafts legislation for the imminent rollout of legal nationwide recreational cannabis, lawmakers are engaged in an ongoing debate about what the age limit should be for legal consumption. The legal drinking age in Canada is 19; in the neighbouring United States, the drinking age is 21, as is the legal cannabis consumption age in states with a recreational market.  

As it stands now, lawmakers are attempting to set the age at 18, which youth substance-use researcher Dr. Rebecca Haines-Saah agrees with, despite pushback from the medical feild. The Canadian Psychiatric Society, the Canadian Medical Association and other medical professionals believe the age should be set to 21.

Dr. Haines-Saah holds a PhD in behavioural health sciences and addiction studies and has studied adolescent cannabis and tobacco use for more than a decade. She also co-leads the TRACE program to understand teen cannabis culture. Based on this, “I believe a lower age is better for two key reasons: It will help to divert youth from illicit markets, and it will prompt an earlier start for cannabis prevention and education,” she wrote in an op-ed for Civilized.

Indeed, one of Canada’s reasons for legalising recreational cannabis nationwide is to stomp out the illicit market, and keep youth away from it. And while evidence shows that using cannabis during the brain’s developmental period, which can extend into the mid-20s, can be harmful, Haines-Saah believes that this argument “neglects social costs of a criminal record for cannabis possession.”

“Without a ‘clean’ criminal record, a person would be unable to participate in mundane but important activities: coaching a children’s soccer team or volunteering to chaperone their school field trips,” she writes. “Such a person certainly could not be a foster parent or adopt a child.”

Setting the age limit too high will not stop youth from seeking cannabis. Instead, it will turn them into criminals for doing so. Let’s hope Canada makes the right choice. 


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