One of Justin Trudeau’s flashiest policies has been his promise to legalize marijuana. Taking advantage of 4/20 this past April, his government announced that it will be instated in the spring of 2017—only one year later. We’re halfway through that time, and his policy remains vague and shallow.
Trudeau is waiting on results from the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, but the lack of information this close to its proposed implementation is unsettling. One of the most glaring gaps is that the Liberal government’s website doesn’t explain how it plans to keep the drug out of the hands of youth—it offers no details, and only asks for a signature in support. When discussing how legalization should be accomplished, Trudeau must clarify how he intends to protect youth from excessive marijuana use and be committed to educating them on the adverse health effects and safety risks.
Marijuana has been condemned since the days of Reefer Madness and Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who claimed that marijuana was “a short cut to the insane asylum” in the 1930s. These tactics were undoubtedly excessive and uninformed, and may have led to the general distrust of anti-drug data. However, there is increasingly concerning evidence of the negative effects marijuana can have on young people, and Trudeau’s motion thus far seems to do nothing to help prevent these negative effects.
Marijuana use can have severely damaging effects on brain development beyond teenage years. Researchers from the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas Medical Centre found that marijuana users overall are more likely to be hospitalized for stroke than non-users. Significantly, the risk of stroke increases by 126 per cent for users aged 25-34—the greatest for any age group. Strokes are usually only a risk for those over 55—not those under age 34. This threat more than doubles the risk within a population that should otherwise be relatively unaffected. Furthermore, according to a study published in The Schizophrenia Bulletin, early marijuana usage can be damaging to the quality of life of those predisposed to psychosis. Cannabis use before the age of 15, the frequency of use, and the potency of the drug can cause the first symptoms of psychosis to appear up to six years earlier than they would have in non-users, setting in as early as mid-20s. These are crucial years in which those predisposed to psychosis can develop strong support systems or career skills to be better prepared for this onset. Ensuring that youth at risk don’t smoke marijuana is essential to preserving those years.
The potential legalization of marijuana also poses significant risks for youth in terms of car accidents. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that motor vehicle fatalities were the highest cause of accident deaths among teenagers between 1999 and 2006, making it vital to account for any increased risk to do with marijuana use. While the risks associated with driving under the influence of marijuana don’t seem to be as great as with alcohol, those who drive while high have trouble staying in their lane and exhibit slower reaction times than sober drivers. In the year after marijuana was legalized in Washington, fatal car crashes among drivers who had marijuana in their system were reported to have doubled. Although this link does not necessarily imply causation, the fact remains that drivers testing positive for THC in their system did increase in that year. It is imperative to better understand these effects before legalizing marijuana and to develop an efficient method of testing for it.
If able-minded, healthy adults want to smoke safely in their own homes, that’s a choice they should be able to make for themselves. But, this is not the population that matters when it comes to the risks marijuana poses. Considering that the Liberal government claims that our current prohibition does not help youth, its lack of a clear plan to deal with this problem is disturbing. One of the biggest perceived advantages of legalization is that it will provide safer access to marijuana for those that want it, but young users below the legal age will still be left to find it in unsafe ways. Even if it’s not a deciding factor, the significant health and safety risks facing youth need to be a greater part of the conversation before the policy’s implementation. Trudeau’s policy, from the little information provided, seems to be hopping on the bandwagon without any plan to deal with the biggest problems the country currently faces.