Article by Dr. Gail Beck, Kingston Whig-Standard
Marijuana has been legal in Canada for two years. There is no great increase in crime rates and reports tell us the use of marijuana among youth aged 15 to 17 is lower than it was before legalization.
Still, there are concerns the federal government assured us would be addressed that need attention. Perhaps the government’s focus on COVID-19 is keeping it from dealing with other issues, but there is evidence that the pandemic may have increased some health concerns related to marijuana. That should be reason enough to examine how effective the legalization of marijuana has been. It should be enough to convince the government to get the work started and to reassure Canadians that it has not forgotten the promises it made that legalizing marijuana would not be harmful to Canadians.
As a psychiatrist who sees only adolescents, I know that many people using marijuana are under the age at which you can legally buy it. Research shows that, despite legalization, 50 per cent of the marijuana purchased in Canada is purchased illegally. While I don’t know the risks to the seller, I know from my patients the risks to the purchaser. Under-age youth buying or obtaining marijuana face greater legal repercussions than those for whom possession is legal. Whether or not the law will take any specific action is not clear and this is a risk for Canadian youth.
At the time of marijuana legalization two years ago, many health organizations, including the Canadian Medical Association, asked that the age for legal use be 21, recognizing that marijuana can affect the brain’s development, which can continue into a person’s mid-20s. For some health professionals, including me, since it was well-established that Canadians between the ages of 15 and 18 were already using more marijuana than their counterparts in other similar countries, this was not as important as a vigorous public health campaign, similar to anti-tobacco campaigns, educating Canadians, and especially Canadian youth, about the risks of using marijuana prior to one’s mid-20s.
A robust public health campaign has not been undertaken. This is clearly a matter of political will, since a federal public health campaign was mounted within days to inform Canadians of the risks of COVID-19. Not that a public health campaign about the risks of marijuana use by youth is more important right now than the government’s COVID-19 public health campaign. However, the government could have had a public health campaign related to marijuana legalization ready two years ago, in time for or shortly after marijuana was legalized.