So if you legalize cannabis, the argument ran, teen use will rise and the harms associated with marijuana will fall increasingly on them. Medical heavyweights such as the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Canadian Pediatric Society all made that claim, warning the Trudeau Government that their plan to legalize cannabis posed a threat to public health generally and to teenagers specifically.
Now, almost 3 years after the feds legalized it for recreational use, we have data that addresses the medical groups’ public health concern. And the survey says: nope, teen use hasn’t changed one bit.
Research published this month in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that from 2018 to 2019, 18% of students in grades 7 to 12 said they had smoked weed – the exact same percentage that smoked it in 2016 to 2017, before it was legal.
What’s more, this finding is consistent with research in other countries that have legalized cannabis: “for those under age 25, [we] found that overall, liberalization of cannabis control appeared to have little effect on actual patterns of use among young people.”
But the really interesting finding is something else: By uncoupling cannabis from criminality and treating underage use like underage drinking, you derive a net public health benefit especially for teens who are visible minorities. Specifically: “this should protect youth from arrest, charges, and the perilous consequences associated with police interactions.” (My emphasis.)
In passing, the researchers also took a swipe at the medical establishment for their biased and narrow-minded view of what constitutes overall good health: “We also consider how focusing narrowly on clinical outcomes has neglected the association between criminalization and social inequities, where the burdens are disproportionate for marginalized and racialized youth.”
Accordingly, they conclude that, on balance, “cannabis legalization – especially when considering the severe adverse social impacts of criminalization, and especially for youth – continues to offer the potential to better protect, and achieve consequential net benefits to public health and welfare of cannabis users and society at large.”