Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thinks Canadians old enough to drink alcohol are old enough to smoke marijuana legally.
Trudeau made the point at a press conference in Ottawa Thursday, days after a federal task force on marijuana legalization recommended the national minimum age to buy recreational marijuana be set at 18. The report also suggested provinces and territories be permitted to raise the age to harmonize with alcohol consumption laws.
In most provinces, the legal drinking age is 19. In Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta, the age limit is 18.
The Canadian Medical Association had urged the task force to recommend a minimum age of 21, pointing to evidence that brains are still developing until the age of 25.
The prime minister, who has long said pot legalization is about keeping the drug away from children and profits away from criminals, told reporters the task force’s recommendation felt like a “reasonable” compromise.
“We know 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,” he said in French.
High minimum age would preserve illicit market: report
The task force, chaired by former Liberal justice minister Anne McLellan, acknowledged in its report that there are a range of views on the right age to be able to buy legal pot.
Setting the age too high risks “preserving the illicit market,” the report reads, and raising the possibility young Canadians will face criminal records since “the highest rates of use are in the 18 to 24 age range.”
The report also said a minimum age of 25, as recommended by the CMA, was “unrealistic” and would force many young Canadians to turn to the black market.
Tories blast recommendation
Conservative health critic Colin Carrie charged in the House of Commons Tuesday that the recommendation “directly contradicted” the prime minister’s aims to keep the drug away from kids.
“Are the Liberals going to make a political decision or an evidence-based decision?.”
— Colin Carrie
Carrie pointed to the CMA’s recommendation and scientific evidence that pot use can have “serious effects” on the brain up to the age of 25.
“Are the Liberals going to make a political decision or an evidence-based decision?” Carrie asked.
Health Minister Jane Philpott responded that the government will review the task force’s report closely before tabling legislation in the spring to legalize, regulate and restrict access to cannabis.
NDP wants immediate decriminalization
On Thursday, Trudeau said he was confident the upcoming legislation will “protect children from the easy access they currently have to marijuana and to remove the criminal element that exists in the marijuana market.”
Meanwhile, New Democrats continue to hammer Trudeau over his refusal to immediately decriminalize pot so young Canadians will not continue to get criminal records for possessing a drug that will one day be legal in Canada.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair asked Trudeau in the House this week how he was protecting young Canadians by continuing to hand out criminal convictions.
“Until we change the laws, the laws stand,” Trudeau said.
With files from Althia Raj
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