BY X. Z. Lebrun & Casandra Bentivoglio
In 2020, the Legault government decided to raise the legal age to use cannabis from 18 to 21 in Quebec. It’s the only province to increase the legal age.
“I don’t think it’s a good tactic,” says twenty-year-old occasional cannabis consumer, Léa Véronneau.
“I don’t think it really changes anything,” she says. “If someone is 18 and they really want to buy weed they are going to find a way even if the rules are more strict. But for sure it seems more moral to put it at 21.”
The government justifies the change due to the lasting effects marijuana can have on the brain, which keeps developing until approximately 25 years of age.
“I do agree with [increasing the minimum age] honestly,” says Véronneau. “I think that 21 is better than 18. Eighteen is pretty young to make that choice. I heard it’s at 25 that the brain stops developing.”
Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, professor of psychiatry at McGill University, says that people most likely to use cannabis are post-high school teenagers.
“The peak of cannabis consumption is between 18 and 21,” says Dr. Gobbi. “So if you can protect at least this group of age, the consumption will decrease later. “
Dr. Gobbi says that studies found that addiction in teenagers who consume cannabis can range from 15 to 33 per cent. “Anything that is more than once a week can become problematic in adolescence,” she warns.
However, cannabis addiction is hard to identify. Dr. Gobbi mentions that those who suffer from cannabis withdrawal experience mild symptoms, which can include irritability, decreased appetite, increased anxiety, insomnia and nightmares.
“Not everybody is able to recognize their symptoms and associate them to withdrawal of marijuana,” she says, noting that this makes it hard to know the addiction rate.
Dr. Gobbi warns that in the short-term, cannabis users might feel euphoria and less anxiety. However, long-term cannabis use can lead to mental challenges, particularly among youth.
“Young people between 19 and 25 show increased risk in psychosis, depression, anxiety as well as some cognitive problems,” she stated.
But the leader of the bloc pot, Hugo St-Onge, believes that all the worry about using cannabis can cause problems of its own.
“The problem why we have trouble helping,” he says. “Is because we have a discourse so based on the risks and irrational fears.”
A recent Statistics Canada report indicates that 10 per cent fewer teens aged 15 to 17 used marijuana after it was legalized. However, there was an increase in use in those aged 18 to 24.
“What is a bit worrisome, is the increase of consumption in the population between 21 and 30,” says Dr. Gobbi. “Before, between 25 to 35, only seven per cent of people smoked cannabis, now there is more than 24 per cent. This means that legalization is changing the consumers.”
According to Statistics Canada, four per cent of students say legalization has made it easier to buy cannabis. Less than one percent claimed it was more difficult.
Forty per cent of students also think they should have easy access to cannabis.
The survey, however, showed no change for when teenagers in the province first consume cannabis, which can range between grade seven to grade 12.
“It’s important to do campaigns of prevention, to inform people that smoking at a [young] age is very dangerous,” says Dr. Gobbi. “Just a law is not enough, we also need prevention.”
Raising the legal age to 21 means that those who want to get their hands on cannabis will need to look for alternative methods.
“I heard from a lot of my friends who are 18, 19 or my age 20, that they buy it online,” says Véronneau. “They order it and receive it at their home. They are my age and they are able to order it. People know where to get it if they want to. You can go to the black market or just have a friend who can go to the SQDC and pay them back. I don’t think it’s going to change much.”
Dr. Gobbi concedes that some people will turn to the black market, saying the government should focus on information campaigns.
Pamela McColl, a member of the non-profit organization Parents Opposed to Pot says cannabis shouldn’t be legal for any age group.
“I’ve seen a lot of motivationals. A lot of people who really weren’t able to maximize their potential academically or socio-economically, so they were really harmed by it,” says McColl. “They didn’t get to live the lives they would have led had they not used marijuana.”
McColl thinks the government should have been even stricter and raised the legal age of consumption to 25.
“Violent outbursts, psychosis, violence, child abuse, spousal abuse. They are all going to be exacerbated by this. We should have just left it as it was,” she says. “I mean cannabis stores are an essential service? Are you kidding me. That’s just obscene.”