Despite the government’s intentions, raising the legal marijuana smoking age may not be as efficient as thought.
The Quebec government passed a law to raise the legal smoking age of marijuana from 18 to 21 in December 2019. Since January 2020, no one under the age of 21 is able to purchase, possess or smoke pot.
The law was introduced in Bill 2, which was sponsored by Minister of Health Lionel Carmant.
As an ex-pediatric neurologist, Carmant’s concerns for the youth-led to his introduction of this legislation. Research done by the Canadian government shows that smoking marijuana before the brain matures has consequences, as it negatively impacts the development of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex controls things like memory, learning, making decisions and judgment. In an email exchange with the Concordian, Carmant said the increased likelihood of getting stimulation psychosis, which can occur from consuming too much cannabis in minors.Carmant hopes to give a “clear message” to teens and young adults. According to him, “cannabis is a harmful substance” that should be avoided.
“We will not compromise the safety of the youth because of an illegal market,” Carmant said.
Louie, a Montreal drug dealer who is using an alias, started selling weed as a first year university student. Due to “shitty” residence food and not having enough money to buy better food regularly, Louie began to sell weed.
While he does not know where his weed comes from, Louie is confident in the reliability and safety of black market bud. However, buyers have to be smart about it, and be wary of prices. “If you’re getting five dollars a gram or something from some sketch motherf*cker, then you’re probably getting some synthetic shit,” he said. Louie sells a gram of weed for $10, and his customers’ ages range from 17 to 30.
Contrary to Louie, social worker Lindsay Faul sees some danger in black market weed and underage weed consumption itself. She cites brain development and the quality of black market weed as concerns related to underage smokers in Montréal.
Weed can be risky for consumers; one of the risks is the uncertainty regarding the amount of THC in illegal weed. According to the Canadian Government’s website, higher amounts of THC can heighten or prolong effects of confusion or anxiety.
Quebec is now the only province that has a higher age limit to purchase cannabis than tobacco or alcohol. Faul does not agree with the decision to have varying legal purchasing age. “I believe that all three of these substances should be treated the same,” Faul said. “Either make all three legal at 18 or all three legal at 21.”
Faul continued by explaining the difference between the dangers of tobacco, weed, and alcohol. While all three have setbacks, “tobacco and cannabis are similar in the sense that they typically cause the most harm to our respiratory system,” she said. But cannabis is less dangerous when it is ingested in other forms. “Alcohol, on the other hand, negatively impacts all the systems in the body,” she added.
Both long-term drinking and heavy drinking can lead to many types of diseases, and can cause damage to organs like the heart, pancreas and liver. While tobacco and cannabis both negatively impact the respiratory system, tobacco affects much more of the body. A diagram by the Canadian Cancer Society shows that tobacco smokers have a higher chance of developing cancers in the mouth, lungs, liver, bladder, and more. Tobacco consumption, while dangerous, is also easy to avoid. The Canadian Cancer Society writes that tobacco is “the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Canada.” Secondhand smoke from tobacco is also dangerous. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, second hand smoke inhalation increases the likelihood of getting lung disease, a heart attack, and stroke. body, and nicotine––what gives users their high––is very addictive.
More research needs to be done to learn about the correlation between smoking cannabis and developing cancer. However, the Canadian Cancer Society writes that some cancer patients use medical marijuana to relieve symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists both alcoholic beverages and all kinds of tobacco exposure in its list of carcinogenic substances to humans.
So how will the Quebec government restrict these dangers from the youth? According to Carmant, the battle against underage tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption is one that society has been fighting for “decades.”
Carmant also said his government will focus on keeping weed out of the hands of youth. “We now have the opportunity to strengthen laws that will prevent illegal cannabis sales in five or 10 years,” he said. “We strongly believe that Quebecers must be made aware of the effects of this substance–especially young people.”
Photo by Jad Abukasm