TORONTO – Some teens say their likelihood of using weed hasn’t changed since the Liberal government announced details of its legalization plan — though they say it’s made them more aware of information on both sides of the debate.
Government officials announced Thursday that cannabis would be made legal for recreational use by July 2018, and those aged 18 and over will be able to buy and grow a small amount of the drug for themselves.
But even as marijuana becomes more mainstream, several teens said their opinions about the drug have remained the same.
Julio Gonzales, 19, said he enjoys using marijuana in moderation, and he doesn’t expect that to change — even smoking pot feels less rebellious than it once did.
He said that in school, he was taught that marijuana was dangerous.
“They kind of classified it with a lot harder drugs like LSD or cocaine, you know? So there was always that kind of ‘villain-y’ look at it. It being really bad for you,” he said. He expects that the curriculum might change a bit, but he said he thinks teachers will still advise against teens using the drug.
He said he knows there have been studies that suggest marijuana use in teenagers can be harmful, so he’s in favour of legislation that restricts minors from smoking.
“I guess it’s also kind of hypocritical of me,” he said, adding that he smokes because he finds that it helps him concentrate on schoolwork.
Ellie Labbancz, who will be 14 next month, said the news of legalization hasn’t changed her thoughts about pot either — she is still staunchly against it.
She said she understands some of the positive arguments for access to marijuana, including that it could reduce drug trafficking and crime.
But overall, she said people could still abuse the drug, and that doesn’t sit right with her. She’s worried about the negative health effects, especially on young people’s brains.
Canadian Psychiatric Association President Dr. Renuka Prasad said in a statement put out on Thursday that early and regular cannabis use can affect memory, attention, intelligence and the ability to process thoughts. He said it can also add to the risk of mental health issues among people who are already vulnerable.
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The CPA position statement on marijuana cites studies that suggest marijuana can interfere with the maturing process the brain goes through in adolescence. It recommended an age limit of 21, as well as quantity and potency limits for those under 25.
Todd Goncalvez, 18, said his opinion hasn’t changed in light of the legalization promise, and it’s not likely to make a difference in opinion — or frequency of use — among his peers.
“I don’t see how legalizing weed will make much of a difference in terms of limiting access to those under the legal age, since it’s already so widely available to kids as young as Grade 8 or 9,” he said.
During the legislation announcement Thursday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale noted that Canadian teenagers are “among the heaviest users in the western world.”
The Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drugs survey in 2015 — the most recently available data from Statistics Canada — suggests that 20.6 per cent of Canadians between ages 15 and 19 had used pot in the past year. Nearly 29 per cent of people in that age group had tried it at some point in their life.
But in spite of the new legislation, Goncalvez said he thinks people are more likely to look at marijuana they way they look at cigarettes.
“Just like alcohol and cigarettes are legal and considered mainstream, weed will still be considered a ‘cool’ thing to do,” he said.