The most controversial aspect of Canada’s move to legalize cannabis nationwide could be setting the legal age to purchase at only 18. This is three years lower than in U.S. states that have accepted medical and recreational cannabis for American’s 21 and older. So what are the benefits and consequences of having such a young legal age?
Benefits of the 18+ model
Advocates for the measure, which is expected to be law by mid-2018, say putting the minimum age at 21 would encourage a black market and drive Canada’s youth into making illegal purchases from unregulated suppliers. And with Canada having the highest rates of teenage cannabis use in the world, that black market would be substantial.
We heard from many participants that setting the minimum age too high risked preserving the illicit market, particularly since the highest rates of use are in the 18 to 24 age range.
A minimum age that was too high also raised concerns of further criminalization of youth, depending on the approach to enforcement. – Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott
Colorado State Rep. Jonathan Singer, whose state became the first to legalize recreational cannabis in 2012, said it too should lower the age to 18 in order to stamp out the lingering black market.
If you are old enough to go to war then you should be old enough to be trusted to use a recreational substance.
Another logical reason for the 18+ model is simply to match the countries age limit for buying alcohol. Since cannabis is often thought to be much better for you than alcohol, it only makes sense to be able to purchase both at one age.
The Canadian Medical Association had recommended setting the legal minimum age at 21 – with strict restrictions and limits on that use until age 25. This recommendation is a product that stems from a mental health perspective on developing brains.
Benedikt Fischer, a University of Toronto psychiatry professor and senior scientist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, believes that legalization will not suddenly reduce or eliminate use among young people and that this notion is unrealistic to a large extent.
So if a lot more adolescents begin using cannabis after legalization, there could be some unfavorable impacts on learning, memory, and mental health within this population.
Those with a genetic disposition for mental health problems should definitely be cautious before choosing whether to try cannabis, especially at a young age. But many of these problems only arise after long periods of heavy cannabis use, so periodic use is highly recommended.
But many health experts and addictions specialists are recommending to hold off on cannabis entirely until the brain is finished developing at around 25.