Article by Jerome Konecsni, for CBC News
The legalization of marijuana presents a host of challenges for policy makers in Canada, the provinces and municipalities. It is an emotional issue with vocal advocates on both sides, and it is further complicated by politics.
We are also witnessing different approaches and decisions being made across the country.
Under the weight of all these complexities, it is always wise to stay focused on the original policy objectives: protect public safety and health, reduce criminal sales, reduce/eliminate youth use of marijuana and maximize the economic opportunities associated with the legalization of marijuana.
There is an interdependence among these objectives — albeit not always an obvious one. When one considers these policy objectives, we are led to several key decision points regarding policy choices: legal age limit, accessibility, cost and product quality/safety.
Legal age for purchasing pot
Consider the legal age. The choices are to keep it the same as alcohol, increase it to 21 (or older) or reduce it to 18.
What impact will the legal age have on youth consumption and criminal activity?
Currently, it is estimated that the second-largest age segment using marijuana is youth aged 12 to 17. Arguments are made that evidence exists to indicate marijuana use has an impact on brain development, which leads to the conclusion that the age limit should coincide with the age when brain development is complete — generally considered to be 25.
If the age limit is reduced to 18, we create a situation where 18-year-olds may choose legal consumption of marijuana over illegal alcohol consumption.
If the age is set at 19, we create a more neutral environment for choice of marijuana versus alcohol and have established a consistent age of choice.
If the age limit is set at 21 or higher, will a larger proportion of users move to the purchase of illegal and unsafe products? Therefore, some people would argue that the age limit could have a direct impact on illegal consumption.
The second factor is accessibility of the product. The Saskatchewan government has announced that 60 retail outlets will be allowed and will be allocated according to population.
If the product is not readily accessible, then consumers may turn to the illicit market to meet their demand.
A larger number of retail outlets would require more resources for regulatory oversight and, therefore, more difficulty in enforcement.