Province looks to other areas in pondering legal age for pot

Province looks to other areas in pondering legal age for pot

A working group that's aiming to determine the legal age for possession of marijuana in New Brunswick is waiting to see what other jurisdictions in Canada do.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced marijuana would become legal on July 1, 2018 and it's recommending the legal age for possession of marijuana use be 18. But jurisdictions across the country are looking at the many factors that play into the age of possession, including New Brunswick. 

"We kind of want to make sure that we we're not doing anything out of the ordinary from other jurisdictions," said  Dr. Jennifer Russell, who is the acting chief medical officer of health for the province. 

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"We're all making sure we have those discussions as much as possible," said Russell, referring to the working group.

Russell said some of the factors that will determine the legal age of possession include enforcement, criminalization, pricing and where people are going to get it.

"The point of legalization is to regulate things, to control things in a way that's safer for people," she said.  "What is the age where you can protect youth …  from the substance?"

The working group, which consists of the Department of Justice, Public Safety, Health, Finance, as well as Opportunities New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation, is expected to present its findings to government in September.

One of the recommendations was a legal age of 19 years, the same as the legal drinking age in New Brunswick.

However, the group will be engaging in several discussions and looking at studies done by various organizations in Canada, including viewpoints from the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Pediatric Society.

"I'm not married to one [viewpoint] at this point," she said. "I think we have ongoing discussions to continue to have."

After that, Russell said there also needs to be education for parents, educatros and other members of the public about the use of marijuana.

"At the end of the day what matters the most is reducing harm for the most vulnerable of the population, which would be 25 and under," she said.

High rates already

According to a report by UNICEF, Russell said Canada is ranked the highest of 29 developed nations in terms of young people using the drug from ages 11 to 15 years.

In 2015, a survey provided by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health shows 21.3 per cent of students in Canada have tried marijuana in Grades 7 to 12.

A Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs survey in 2013 shows adults from 20 to 24 are 2½ times more likely to smoke cannabis than adults 25 or older.

"We have high rates right now," she said. "In moving forward … we would not want to see those numbers go up, we would love to see them go down."

Battling normalization

In terms of battling the normalization of marijuana use, Russell said public health will have its work cut out for it in the months to come.

She said regardless of the legal age of possession, public health will be trying to counteract the normalization of marijuana from people using it different ways, such as mixing it with tobacco to smoke it.

"We know there are risks associated with that," she said.

She said public health has made a lot of progress in tobacco use and the rates of smoking have come down.

"We would hate to see normalization of marijuana impact that," she said. "We're taking all these things into account and having these discussions."