Trudeau Says Marijuana Legalization Kept Drug From Kids; Stats Show Otherwise
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at an event in Winnipeg on April 12, 2023. (The Canadian Press/John Woods)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on April 20—a celebratory day ritualized by cannabis users known as 4/20—that he has successfully kept cannabis out of kids’ hands by legalizing the drug.
The main studies on youth cannabis use, however, “are not very conclusive,” says Chantal Vallerand, executive director of Drug Free Kids Canada.
For example, the government’s Canadian Cannabis Survey shows an uptick in youth usage since legalization in October 2018, while its Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey shows usage rates staying stable.
The conclusions of other studies vary—but none of the studies cited in the government’s engagement paper currently being used in a legislative review of the Cannabis Act show a marked decline in children’s use.
“In 2018, our government legalized and regulated cannabis—to keep it out of the hands of kids and to take profits away from criminals. Promise made, promise kept,” Trudeau tweeted on April 20.
Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, says the Trudeau government did not fulfill either promise.
Sabet also listed off other concerns around legalization, including increased cannabis-related hospitalizations, more accidental ingestions by small children, impacts on brain development in adults up to around age 25 for whom the substance is now legal, and the increased potency of cannabis products.
Cannabis-related hospitalizations rose 14 percent from October 2020 to June 2021, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). CIHI connects this with a rise in substance abuse caused by the pandemic. Vallerand also noted that it is difficult to untangle the impacts of legalization on cannabis use from the impacts of the pandemic.
Hospitalization of children under age 10 for cannabis poisoning more than doubled after legalization, according to a study by Dr. Daniel Myran at the University of Ottawa Department of Family Medicine that looked at data between 2015 and 2021.
Referring to Trudeau’s comment about taking “profits away from criminals,” Sabet said that “the underground market and gangs are bigger than ever in Canada.” The illicit market continues to thrive, he told The Epoch Times, as “demand for marijuana has skyrocketed.”
Government studies have consistently shown an uptick in cannabis use among Canadians as a whole, particularly older adults, since legalization. The government’s engagement paper says this rise follows “the upward trend that existed prior to legalization.”
The illicit market still gets a large portion of sales as it remains competitive with the legal market in terms of price and quality.
A variety of cannabis edibles are displayed at the Ontario Cannabis Store in Toronto on Jan. 3, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Tijana Martin)
Ontario’s government-run cannabis distributor, the Ontario Cannabis Store, in February announced plans to drop prices this September to compete with the illicit market, which still accounted for 43 percent of cannabis sales in the province as of March 2022.
Illicit sales Canada-wide accounted for 42 percent of all sales in 2019, a year after legalization, according to the latest data from Public Safety Canada. In 2019, the portion of legal sales had increased by about 30 percentage points since legalization, from 22 percent to 52 percent.
It is hard, however, for the government to gather information on illicit sales with precision, as is noted in a study co-authored by Syed Mahamad at the University of Waterloo. “Reporting illegal purchases to a government crowdsourcing website” used for such surveys can “skew findings,” the study said.
The impact on illicit sales and the impact on children are both factors an ongoing legislative review of the Cannabis Act is supposed to examine. The law included a mandate that the government review the legislation after three years. The review was launched a year late, in September 2022.
Health Canada received more than 2,000 responses to an online survey that is now closed, spokesperson Mark Johnson told The Epoch Times via email. The results of that survey will be published in the coming months, he said, and an expert panel will use the survey as well as other community and stakeholder outreach to help inform its assessment of the act.
Sabet said that, whether legal or illegal, the monetary interest in promoting drug-use is concerning. “These major industries … are taking the playbook right out of big tobacco. That also worries me,” he said.
Vallerand said she has also often heard the comparison to big tobacco from social workers, psychiatrists, and pediatricians. It took a long time to understand how children and society at large understand the risks of tobacco use, and to understand the impacts of how it is promoted.
“Cannabis has been among us for a long time, but now the fact that it’s legalized, there’s less stigma attached to it,” Vallerand said. “And that’s what’s dangerous, because all of a sudden it has become a little bit more normalized. So people could be all of a sudden thinking that it’s not as dangerous because it’s legal.”
Drug Free Kids Canada provides parents with free counselling and advises them on how to talk with children of all ages about the risks of cannabis use. Vallerand said studies have shown that even though parents may feel their children aren’t listening, children actually trust the information on drugs that comes from their parents more than information from other sources.
Youth psychiatrist Dafna Kahana told The Epoch Times via email that the potency of cannabis has increased, which in turn increases the risks of using the drug. “The perceived risk of cannabis has decreased,” she said. “And the potency of cannabis has increased, increasing the risks for cannabis-related harms.”
Kahana coauthored a study published September last year looking at the impacts of cannabis legalization on youth. She cited in the study government data showing use had increased among Canadians aged 12–24 from 10.7 percent in 2017 to 16.3 percent in 2018 after legalization.
It also showed an increase in the proportion of Canadians aged 16–19 who endorsed cannabis use since legalization, rising from 36 percent in 2018 to 44 percent in 2019 and 2021.
Her study noted that “the trend of a decrease in adolescents’ cannabis use seen pre-legalization may have reversed.” However, Kahana told The Epoch Times that the findings in her review “were mixed.” The evidence is still very limited, she said.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.