fbpx Jesse Kline: Quebec wants to raise the legal cannabis age to 21. That's a terrible idea

Jesse Kline: Quebec wants to raise the legal cannabis age to 21. That's a terrible idea

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Canada already has some of the toughest cannabis regulations of any legal jurisdiction in the world. For many Canadians, so far, that has meant a lack of selection, few places to buy pot legally and no Amsterdam-style coffee shops. Now, the Quebec government is looking to crack down even harder by raising the minimum age from 18 to 21. At a time when we should be looking at how to give consumers more freedom to enjoy this newly legal product, this would force a whole host of Quebecers to turn to the black market and forgo the benefits of legalization.

Indeed, despite already having some of the most restrictive cannabis regulations in the country, a mere two months after legalization, Quebec’s new Coalition Avenir Québec government introduced Bill 2 — literally called “An Act to tighten the regulation of cannabis.” Currently before the national assembly’s committee on health and social services, the bill has received widespread criticism as of late, including from Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and numerous public health agencies and experts — and for good reason.

Limiting cannabis usage to individuals who are 21 years of age and over would align Quebec with the United States, but put it wildly out of step with its neighbouring provinces, all of which have set the age of majority at 19. This would mean that many 19 and 20 year olds living near the border with other provinces would continue to have ready access to legally sourced weed, while those living elsewhere in the province would be forced to buy from the black market. It would also mean that the province would forgo any tourism revenue from college-aged Americans coming north of the border to sample Canadian cannabis.

Canada was smart not to follow the United States’ lead when the U.S. Congress pressured the states to increase the drinking age to 21 in the 1980s by threatening to withhold highway funding. The U.S. is currently one of only a handful of countries that has such a high drinking age and it has seen numerous problems as a result, such as a high binge drinking rate, especially compared to places with much more relaxed alcohol regulations, like Europe.

The U.S. now has some of the highest rates of binge drinking in the world. This is a problem among those who are under 21, because making it harder for them to buy liquor means they tend to push their drinking to excess when they do get their hands on it. It is also often the case for those who have recently turned 21 and start making up for lost time, without the benefit of knowing what their tolerance is.

Yet binge drinking is something we see far less of in Europe, where it’s not uncommon for people who are 18 years of age or younger to pick up a case of beer from the corner store and consume small amounts of alcohol around the family dinner table. As a result, people become socialized to alcohol and are far less likely to abuse it.

There’s little reason to believe the same pattern wouldn’t hold when it comes to cannabis. Raising the legal age may make it harder for some young adults to buy cannabis, but, as prohibition has shown, it’s not going to stop anyone from doing so. All it will do is help maintain the black market by giving it a near monopoly over this segment of the population. Given that one of the federal government’s stated goals for legalization was to eliminate the black market, this would be counterproductive.

Moreover, the European model is one that Quebecers are intimately familiar with, as the province has always had some of the most liberal alcohol regulations in the country: prohibition only lasted a few weeks in Quebec, it is one of the few provinces to set the drinking age at 18 and it allows beer and wine sales in corner stores.

It makes little sense for the province to have fairly lax regulations on one adult-use product and such stringent ones on another, especially considering that cannabis is arguably safer than alcohol (indeed, the 2017 Global Drug Survey ranked recreational drugs based on the number of hospital visits they caused; alcohol was in the top three, while cannabis was in the bottom three).

It’s true that there is some research suggesting that cannabis can have an adverse effect on developing brains and that the brain keeps developing until age 25. But in a free country, we have to set an age at which people can make their own decisions, even if they involve some level of risk.

In Canada, that age has always been 18 or 19. To paraphrase an old argument: if you’re old enough to go overseas and die for your country, you should be old enough to smoke a joint.

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