Prime Minister Trudeau’s pot legalization plan bad for the country’s young people

Edmonton Sun | January 11, 2017

Sen. Betty Unger, Alberta Senator

Last summer the Trudeau government established a task force to study marijuana legalization and regulation.

Their mandate was to consult with Canadians about developing a framework for legal access to marijuana (cannabis).

The task force’s report was released shortly before Christmas and provided numerous recommendations regarding legalization.

Regrettably, however, it did not comment on whether the government is taking Canada in the right direction since this was not part of its mandate.

If it had been, the task force may have discovered that legalization will take us down the wrong road.

It is Canadian youth who will be harmed the most from legalizing marijuana.

The shocking reality is that marijuana use by adolescents in Canada is already the highest in the world.

About one quarter of Canadian youth aged 15–24 reported using cannabis in 2013, making it the most commonly used illegal drug among this age group, according to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse.

For some inexplicable reason, the Prime Minister mistakenly believes that legalization will help keep marijuana out of the hands of young people. Tragically, he is wrong. He would do well to consider the experience of the United States where marijuana consumption by adolescents has grown steadily as more states enact decriminalization laws.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more American teenagers now smoke marijuana than cigarettes.

The latest survey results in December 2016 confirmed that this trend is continuing, showing a significant increase in marijuana use for young people between the ages of 18-24. Among youth in grades 8-12, the statistics show a growing preference for marijuana over both cigarettes and alcohol.

Legalization sends a powerful and unmistakable message to our youth that the risks of marijuana are minimal.

This perception of lower risk will result in increased consumption – a fact noted in the Liberal government’s own discussion paper.

The health impacts of marijuana on youth are significant.

In addition to increasing the risk of cancer and lung disease, studies have repeatedly demonstrated that usage by those under 25 can cause irreversible brain damage.

Because the brain of a person under the age of 25 is still maturing, neuronal pathways used for “executive functions” such as reasoning, decision-making and problem solving, are still developing.

The consumption of marijuana inhibits this development resulting in lower IQ levels, reduced academic performance, diminished career achievement and an increased risk of psychosis.

In addition, there is strong evidence suggesting a link between marijuana consumption and increased rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The Trudeau governments’ discussion paper entitled “Toward Legalization, Regulation and Restriction of Access to Marijuana” acknowledged that, “Marijuana is not a benign substance and the scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that young people are at a higher level of risk for experiencing negative impacts.”

And yet incredibly, despite this admission, the PM and his Minister of Health are recklessly forging ahead.

In their report to the government, the Task Force on marijuana legalization stated the following, “We have discovered that the regulation of marijuana will touch every aspect of our society.”

On this point they are correct. But what Canadians should be aware of, is that the impacts will not be positive and it is our youth who will suffer the most.

Sen. Betty Unger,  Alberta Senator