Discouraging teenage marijuana use

Chinese translation.

Parents are concerned about the legalization of marijuana in Canada. How can we protect our teenage children from using marijuana?

The basic problem is that people don't believe marijuana is dangerous. If they don't believe it's dangerous, even making it illegal doesn't help.

Consider cigarettes. Smoking has been steadily declining, even though it's legal, because of public education campaigns about the health risks of smoking: lung cancer, heart disease, and so on.

Among teenagers, marijuana usage is now higher than smoking, because even though marijuana is illegal, teenagers don’t believe that it’s dangerous, compared to smoking. In 2013, about 15% of BC high school students reported that they had used marijuana in the previous month. On the other hand, between 2001 and 2011, the number of 15 to 17 year olds who reported smoking tobacco in the previous month dropped from 19% to 10%.

Making marijuana illegal is ineffective. What we need is an ongoing public education campaign to convince teenagers that smoking marijuana regularly is a major health risk, because the developing brain is especially vulnerable - your brain continues to develop into your early 20s. In particular, smoking marijuana floods certain neuroreceptors in your brain with high quantities of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This causes them to work less effectively, and also causes toxic changes. To quote the Canadian Paediatric Society: "Structural changes on MRI have also been documented in youth who use cannabis regularly. They show lower brain volumes, different folding patterns and thinning of the cortex, less neural connectivity and lower white matter integrity, all of which indicate damage by THC."

The recommendations of the Canadian Paediatric Society include the following:

  • Fund public education campaigns to reinforce that cannabis is not safe for children and youth by raising awareness of the harms associated with cannabis use and dependence. These campaigns should be developed in collaboration with youth leaders and should include messages from young opinion-leaders.

  • Prohibit sales of all cannabis products to children and youth under the legal age for buying tobacco products and alcohol (18 or 19 years, depending on location).

Their recommendations for regulations to limit marketing of cannabis to minors include:

  • Mandate and enforce strict marketing and promotional standards, including a ban on all cannabis industry-related advertising and on the sponsorship of events, activities or permanent facilities by the cannabis industry.

  • Mandate package warnings for all cannabis products, including known and potential harmful effects of exposure (e.g., to young children and the fetus during pregnancy), similar to messaging on cigarette packaging.

  • Mandate and enforce a ban on the marketing of cannabis-related products using strategies or venues that attract children and youth, including (but not limited to) 'candy-like' edibles, 'giveaways' and promotion through social media.

Facts about marijuana legalization

Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001. Recreational marijuana becomes legal on October 17, 2018.

The legislation governing marijuana is C-45.

C-45 includes the following statement of goals:

The purpose of this Act is to protect public health and public safety and, in particular, to

(a) protect the health of young persons [under 18] by restricting their access to cannabis;

(b) protect young persons and others from inducements to use cannabis;

(c) provide for the licit production of cannabis to reduce illicit activities in relation to cannabis;

(d) deter illicit activities in relation to cannabis through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures;

(e) reduce the burden on the criminal justice system in relation to cannabis;

(f) provide access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis; and

(g) enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.

Under C-45, selling or distributing marijuana to young people is illegal, punishable by either indictment (up to 14 years in prison) or summary conviction (up to 18 months), depending on the seriousness of the case. Possession of more than 30 g of marijuana (5 g for young people) is also illegal, punishable by either indictment (up to five years) or summary conviction (up to six months).

Cannabis can only be sold to adults in stores that are licensed by the provincial government. Packaging is restricted, with specific restrictions against packaging that would be appealing to young people. And it is illegal to promote or advertise cannabis except in places where young people are prohibited by law, like a bar.

In BC, landlords can prohibit their tenants from smoking marijuana and from growing marijuana. For existing rentals, growing marijuana is retroactively prohibited, and smoking marijuana is retroactively prohibited if there was a "no smoking" clause in the tenancy agreement. For new tenancies, it’s important to state these prohibitions explicitly in the tenancy agreement.