Canadian PM Justin Trudeau Advocates Minimum Age of 18 for Recreational Marijuana Use

By Paul Gaita 12/23/16

Trudeau says that adopting the age limits will "protect children from the easy access" to marijuana and help "remove the criminal element."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

As Canada prepares to launch its recreational marijuana industry, it faces a contentious issue regarding the minimum age for individuals to partake in the program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the debate at a press conference on Dec. 15, where he stated that Canada should align with the country's legal drinking ages of 18, or 19 in some provinces, as a "reasonable compromise" to satisfy both sides of the argument.

Trudeau's statement echoes the recommendation made by the government's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, which issued a report that outlined a plan for Canada to regulate sales and production of marijuana for recreational use.

In the report, its authors—former Liberal MP Anne McLellan and Dr. Mark Ware, a physician and pain management specialist, and associate professor in Family Medicine and Anesthesia at McGill University—stated that setting the limit for legal use too high would "result in a range of unintended consequences, such as leading those consumers to continue to purchase cannabis on the illicit market."

Trudeau echoed that assessment at the press conference, where he noted that "the largest misdeeds of marijuana use happens at a lower age than 18, 19 years of age, and I think this is a responsible approach that we have found in terms of balance that is both practical and useful." Adopting the legal drinking age limits would "protect children from the easy access they currently have to marijuana and ... remove the criminal element that exists in the marijuana market," he noted.

Trudeau's support for the legal age limit stands in contrast to the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which recommended that the minimum age should be set at 21, while quantities and potency of recreational marijuana should be reduced to individuals under the age of 25 to "discourage use and sharing with underage friends."

The CMA based its suggestion on the impact that marijuana has on brain development in individuals under 25 years of age, as well as its connection to a variety of potential health issues, from addiction to chronic bronchitis and cognitive impairment. The Task Force responded to the CMA's recommendations by labeling them as "unrealistic" and a possible contributor to younger Canadians buying marijuana through criminal outlets.

As both sides attempt to sort out the legal age limit issue, Canada is anxious to see exactly what sort of revenue will be generated by recreational marijuana use. Market analysts have projected the possibility of C$6 billion (more than $4 billion USD) in sales by 2021. Shares of Canadian marijuana stocks also soared after the Task Force issued its report on Dec. 13.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.