Legal Age for Marijuana in Canada? Ottawa Public Health Says 25

In a submission sent to the federal task force, Ottawa Public Health agency stated that the legal age for marijuana in Canada should be 25. The submission included 33 recommendations on minimizing harm to Canadian citizens. These included methods of retailing, production and providing better access to medical marijuana.

Luckily, with legalization around the corner, this restriction is not likely to be implemented into Canadian law. However, this misguided belief is not an uncommon one, and I’m sure you’ve heard it circulated amongst the more conservative, cautious proponents of marijuana legalization. Therefore, this is a notion worth squashing.

Let’s begin by examining the claim of Ottawa Public Health that the legal age for marijuana in Canada should be 25 and their motivations behind it. Then we will examine why their proposition, while well intended, is ultimately out of touch with reality and dangerous.

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Marijuana's effect on the developing brain,
The main motivation for Ottawa Public Health to make the legal age for marijuana in Canada 25 is its effect on the developing brain… However, this completely misses the point (image via ScientificDaily)

It is clear that Ottawa Public Health approached the marijuana issue with the purest of intentions. Unfortunately, the road to bad public policy is often paved with good intentions.

Apparently, the issue of the legal age for marijuana in Canada was chief amongst the concerns raised by the 28 health agencies that collaborated on aiding the government in their mission to create marijuana policy.

Gillian Connely, manager of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with Ottawa Public Health stated that keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth was a cornerstone issue for a successful legalization.

“We wanted to ensure that we’re reducing access for youth… One of the things that the research clearly demonstrates is that early access to cannabis can have detrimental effects for brain development and the brain develops up to age 25.”

Ottawa Public Health believes that in addition to setting the legal age for marijuana in Canada at 25, additional measures must be taken. Rigid enforcement of the law and harsh repercussions for those who violate it are necessary for keeping cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth.

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Ottawa Public Health’s Plan is Prohibition By Another Name

young man rolls joint, Canada weed and teenagers
Prohibition has been largely ineffective in keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth, why does Ottawa Public Health think prohibition would keep marijuana out of the hands of legal adults? (image via The Chart –

Prohibition does not work. The 100 plus year experiment of keeping cannabis illegal should have been more than enough education on the matter for the Canadian public and Ottawa Public Health. If the Canadian government were to fold and set the legal age for marijuana in Canada at 25, the black market would be given room to breathe and a comfortable lane from which to continue its sales.

Prohibition has not prevented our youth from consuming cannabis. In fact, the illegalization of cannabis, combined with ill-conceived, dishonest, just say no drug education has seen weed use amongst our youth skyrocket over the past decades.

By setting the legal age for marijuana in Canada at 25, University campuses would undoubtedly become a haven for black market drug dealers. This promises to be an absolute enforcement nightmare, as bringing students into frequent contact with law enforcement will undoubtedly ruin lives and create a culture of fear and suspicion on campuses.

Biker Gangs are Selling Medical Marijuana
(image via CTV News)

Additionally, prohibition promotes organized crime. This is a well-established fact as some of the worlds most profitable cartels and mafias have thrived amidst the illegalization of drugs. In Canada, criminal syndicates such as the Hell’s Angels have already proven themselves to be exceptional at adapting to new realities of cannabis prohibition. Currently, biker gangs have been able to infiltrate Canada’s medicinal marijuana system and sell their product in the thriving grey market dispensaries.

It would be naive to assume that these organizations do not have the Darwinian instincts to adapt to a world in which the legal age for marijuana in Canada was 25. Surely Ottawa Public Health did not factor into their decision how dangerous and unregulated a black market for youth would be.

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Adults Have The Right to Choose For Themselves

The main motivation for Ottawa Public Health to set the legal age for marijuana in Canada at 25 is the plant’s effect on the developing brain. Scientific studies have confirmed that cannabis, especially in excess, can have adverse effects on formative brains. Science has also confirmed that the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex, continues to develop well into one’s 20s. So far the science behind the policy checks out. However, the pragmatic realities of drug enforcement policy render it ineffective.

Substances and activities are not made illegal based on how dangerous they are. This is especially true of drugs. In Canada, the age of majority is 18 or 19 depending on which province you reside in. You are considered a legal adult and thereby permitted to engage in many activities that have been proven to be volatile to the developing brain.

Alcohol, for instance, has been proven to have disastrous consequences on the developing brain, from exacerbating mental illness, to reducing IQ and more. Yet there is no clamor from Ottawa Public Health to raise the minimum drinking age to 25.

Many other non-drug related activities that are devastating to the formative brain are perfectly legal at the age of consent. Contact sports such as football and hockey cause repetitive concussive and sub-concussive brain traumas. These injuries can lead to conditions such as CTE. Yet if one was to posit a ban on contact sports in Canada, it would be impossible to take their suggestion seriously.

So setting legal age for marijuana in Canada at 25 is ineffective. What would be a more promising solution to decrease youth consumption of marijuana?

Education, The Perfect Solution

Ottawa Public Health should take a lesson or two from cigarettes and alcohol. Despite being legal at the age of the majority, youth consumption of these two vices has decreased significantly in the past decades. Youth consumption of cannabis, however, has been on the up and up despite prohibition.

Our successes with cigarettes and alcohol have been the result of years of honest, effective public education campaigns that inform youth about the health risks associated with these two substances. If this isn’t indicative of how to reduce youth consumption, I’m not sure what is.

While 18 or 19 may seem like an arbitrary line in the sand, the line must be drawn somewhere. The Canadian government has decided this is the age which Canadian citizens can give informed consent. Therefore setting the legal age for marijuana in Canada at 25 is nonsensical. If Ottawa Public Health is concerned about the developing brain of Canadian youth, honest public education campaigns are the only effective M.O.

By: Stefan Hosko
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