New Brunswick

Marijuana use among teens down 2 years after legalization

Two years after the sale of marijuana was legalized in Canada, and researchers have yet to see the feared increase in use, says Michael Boudreau, a criminology professor at St. Thomas University. 

Use among 18-24 year-olds stayed the same

Two years after the sale of cannabis was legalized, use by teenagers age 15 to 17 has been cut in half, to just 10 per cent. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Two years after the sale of marijuana was legalized in Canada, and researchers have yet to see the feared increase in use, says Michael Boudreau, a criminology professor at St. Thomas University.

About six per cent of Canadians report they consume cannabis on a daily basis, a number that's remained unchanged from before legalization. 

"So there, we're not seeing a skyrocket use of cannabis," said Boudreau. 

In fact, use of cannabis in the age bracket of 15 to 17 has been cut in half, down to 10 per cent from the 20 per cent it was before legalization. 

But cannabis consumption for those between the ages of 18 and 24 is 33 per cent, which Boudreau said is relatively unchanged. 

"Now, some would argue that is still too high and I think that's a point that can be taken, so there could be more education directed towards cannabis use." 

Snapshot of two years of legalization

Boudreau has been studying the impact of legalized cannabis sales and shared his findings in an article he co-wrote with Sarah Hamill, a professor at the school of law at the Trinity College, Dublin titled The Kids Are All Right: Reflections on Two Years of Legal Cannabis in Canada

The two have been trying to get a sense of the critical aspects of cannabis use in Canada after two years.

"We wanted to take a snapshot on the second anniversary just to see what legalization has meant to Canadians. If the legal use of cannabis has increased, if it's decreased, what about the sales? And then what do we do going forward?"

Boudreau said one of the key goals of legalization was to eliminate the black market in cannabis sales, a lofty goal and likely idealistic goal.

"As we've seen with alcohol sales, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate the black market." 

But even with that, Boudreau said 52 per cent of Canadians report that they secure their cannabis from legal sources, primarily government owned stores.

He added that's a jump from 23 per cent in sales in the first year of legalization.

"That shot up significantly so the government's goal of eliminating the black market is starting to bear fruit." 

Skyrocketing sales

Boudreau said there is a bump of use of cannabis among older Canadians which may come from them thinking legalized cannabis is respectable.

"What we're also seeing across the country is skyrocketing sales."

Boudreau said by July of this year, sales for legal cannabis totalled $231 million  in Canada and New Brunswick was one of the provinces that saw the biggest increase. 

Online sales during the COVID pandemic have increased and Boudreau said it seems more and more Canadians are moving toward online sales as opposed to black market sales.

New Brunswick was one of the provinces that saw the largest increase in cannabis sales in 2020. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC News file photo)

"Some have argued all along that one of the best models is not just solely government run, but a mixture of government run stores, but also those small, quote unquote, pot shops that sell because they're arguably the experts in terms of explaining cannabis and how it's used to Canadians." 

But he said if those stores exist it will mean that the black market will never disappear.

"So again, while that was a lofty goal on the part of the federal government, I don't think it's one that will ultimately be achieved."

But, he said the numbers show we're at least making progress toward that goal. 

The increase in sales of cannabis have surprised him, even though it shouldn't have and he attributes it to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're seeing increased sales of alcohol, of cannabis, tobacco, opioids, unfortunately. So I think this is one way that people are coping." 

Pardons delayed

Boudreau said law enforcement has responded quite well to the changes but police are still facing the challenge of how to detect people are driving high. He said police are still rolling out the technology and training officers.

COVID has also slowed the parole board of Canada's ability to issue pardons for people who had been convicted of simple possession of marijuana. Boudreau said there are calls for the federal government to expunge these records to allow travel in the United States where cannabis possession is still illegal federally. 

Boudreau said it's been estimated there are at least 250,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton


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