Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jul 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jenna Valleriani
Page: A9


The federal government has announced that it will create a task force
to handle marijuana legalization. Led by former deputy prime minister
Anne McLellan, the task force will feature nine individuals with
varying expertise.

In the announcement last Thursday, Health Minister Jane Philpott
declared the legalization of cannabis will be "comprehensive and
evidence-based," and yet in the same breath, reminded Canadians that
"marijuana has negative effects on young brains and brain development
in adolescence."

What Dr. Philpott didn't acknowledge is that this body of scientific
evidence is still being debated in the scientific literature: It's
incomplete and has never actually established that marijuana is the
cause in these outcomes of cognitive deficiency. We have also never
established what the actual duration of that impairment may be.

Meanwhile, the protecting youth argument has become the cornerstone of
what responsible and restrictive legal cannabis access will look like.

However, under the guise of trying to protect young people, history
illustrates we often end up criminalizing and victimizing them even
further. The reiteration of this "concrete evidence" has led some to
debate whether cannabis should follow provincial drinking ages, or if
access should be afforded only to those who are 25 and older.

While I am not discounting the importance of this developing research,
we also know young people in our country have some of the highest
rates of cannabis use in the world. In Ontario, for example, roughly
20 per cent of adolescents aged 1217 reported using cannabis at least
once in 2013, and that number is as high as 40 per cent when looking
at those aged 18-29.

This research also draws on samples of heavy, long-term users. To put
that into perspective, of the 20 per cent of teens who reported using
cannabis in 2013, roughly 2 per cent reported using cannabis daily.
Using cannabis once, or even occasionally, does not equate to this

Further, 25 would be the highest age limit of any jurisdiction with
legal cannabis in the world. What we should really be thinking about
is that an age limit as high as 25 will actually end up widening the
scope of the criminal justice system by encouraging the access of
cannabis through unregulated and more dangerous avenues outside of a
legalized system. Young people are already disproportionately affected
by cannabis prohibition, particularly marginalized youth, who account
for the highest rates of drug-related offences today.

This is particularly troubling considering a majority of these charges
are for cannabis possession - laws which continue to be enforced today
despite legalization on the horizon.

As a colleague recently pointed out, "age limits don't reflect safe
initiation of use, but rather an age when we believe people can make
reasoned choices about their health and well-being."

If we trust young people to make these kinds of choices around other
legally regulated substances at ages 18 and 19 in Canada, it follows
that they are able to exercise both agency and reasoned decision
making in the consumption of cannabis at a similar age.

We ask young people to exercise these reasoned decision making skills
every day in their own lives, and sound cannabis policy should reflect
this. Some 25-year-old Canadians have mortgages, families, post
secondary and graduate degrees, and can join and fight for the
Canadian Armed Forces. There's no reason to set cannabis to a higher
standard than alcohol and tobacco under a legalized framework.

Setting an age as high as 25, based off incomplete research, is just
not sound policy.

By framing the potential for future criminalization and victimization
of young people as an effort to make society safer, we miss what it
truly means to support youth and prioritize the rights of our young

Jenna Valleriani is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, and 
strategic adviser for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt