Teen marijuana use common because of Canadian drug policy, says pot activist

Photo credit: Chuck Grimmett, via Flickr

The high rate of marijuana use among Canada’s youth is a by-product of strict drug control, pot activist and BC Green Party candidate Jodie Emery said.

Canada has the highest rate of cannabis use among young people in developed countries, according to a recent report by UNICEF. In Canada, 28 per cent of kids aged 11, 13 and 15 reported having used cannabis in the last 12 months. The data comes from a 2009-2010 World Health Organization (WHO) survey of 29 developed countries.

Canada also had the highest rates of youth marijuana use in a similar WHO survey conducted eight years prior, but the rate has gone down from 40 per cent to 28 per cent. While the situation may have improved, young people continue to use cannabis at a very high rate, despite laws against it.

In the Netherlands, a country known for its relaxed drug policy, only 17 per cent of youth said they used cannabis. Emery said that this actually makes sense.

“In countries with more liberal drug laws, the use of marijuana and other drugs is lower,” she said, a view that corresponds to the report’s findings.

Emery argued that the legalization and regulation of drugs help control the substance and keep it out of the hands of young people. When drugs are illegal, they’re controlled by criminal organizations, and gangs “give it to anyone who wants it,” she said. Further, these gangs make money off of prohibited drugs, so Emery asserts that politicians who support prohibition are in fact supporting gangs.

The health impacts of marijuana use are limited, and Emery says it’s no worse than alcohol, but a criminal record due to drug possession can have a life-long impact.

“The law causes more harm to young people than does the substance itself, Emery stated. “That needs to change.”

Emery makes it clear that she doesn't condone marijuana use among children, and cited a report that suggested 16 could be an appropriate minimum age for marijuana use. The 2002 report, from a special committee to the Canadian Senate, recommended the legalization and regulation of marijuana. It said cannabis laws should only prohibit what causes demonstrable harm to others: illegal trafficking, impaired driving, and selling it to people under the age of sixteen.

Last November, a poll by Forum Research found that 65 per cent of Canadians support the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. And yet, marijuana remains banned, with an exception for medical use.

Emery and many other proponents of legalization suggest that Canada follow the example of Washington state, which voted in November to legalize marijuana. The state will be regulating the sale of marijuana, while banning sales to young people, in the same way that alcohol is regulated.

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