Why Teen Cannabis Use Increased the Year Before Legalization

You’ve probably seen the stats showing that Canadians started smoking more weed following legalization last October. But a new study shows that for Canadian youth, that increase in consumption started before legalization actually happened.

The study, which comes from the University of Waterloo, shows that conversations about recreational and medicinal cannabis consumption in the years before legalization might have encouraged otherwise drug-free teens to experiment with cannabis.

"The problem was developing while legalization was being discussed, but well before concrete steps to change the law were taken," said lead author Alex Zuckermann.

"With medicinal use more widespread and talk of total legalization starting, we saw a shift in public perception starting around 2014. Before that, youth cannabis use was declining. These changing social norms may have contributed to rising youth use."

The study took data from the COMPASS study, an annual survey taken by high school students in Ontario and Alberta. They found that cannabis use hit its peak in the 2017-2018 school year, with 10 percent of students saying they’d used it at least once per week and 18 percent saying they’d used it at least once in the last year.

This was up from 2014-2015, when it was at its lowest point (9 per cent and 15 per cent respectively).

It’s too early to tell whether these numbers have gone up or down post-legalization, but the point remains that lawmakers, educators and parents have to focus on getting the message out: Just because cannabis is legal, doesn’t mean it’s for children.

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