17 October 2018

Cannabis Legalization: What Youth & Young Adults Need to Know

Written by: Skylark’s Peer Youth Harm Reduction Team

Skylark’s Peer Youth Harm Reduction Team is composed of peer youth ages 16-24 who work to support Skylark in creating space for young people to talk about drugs, sex and sex work. This blog post aims to address misconceptions about cannabis legalization, as well as, inform youth and young adults about what it will mean for those who use cannabis post legalization.

As legalization grows nearer, Skylark’s Peer Youth Harm Reduction Team would like to share some information that will be important for youth and young adults to know regarding cannabis legalization.

1. Cannabis will not be legal for everyone!

In Ontario, if you are under the age of 19, you will not be able to purchase cannabis under legalization.[i] The only way it will be legal for someone under 19 to use cannabis would be for medical purposes.[ii]  In other provinces, the minimum age may be higher or lower.

2. Cannabis offences for minors will be subjective.

What this means is that because of the discretionary nature of police powers under legalization, some police officers may be more willing to “look the other way” than others in cases of youth possession. Currently, police discretion operates unequally against a variety of marginalized groups; this may be no different with cannabis legalization.[iii

3. If you are a minor, it will be more difficult to obtain cannabis from a source you trust.

Youth under 19 years old will not be allowed to purchase cannabis from a government-regulated source. Therefore, the only option for young people to purchase cannabis will be from an unregulated source. Under legalization, there will be increased fines and harsher criminal penalties for individuals who distribute cannabis outside of the government regulated market and even greater punishment for those who distribute to minors. As a result, young people will likely have a harder time obtaining cannabis from a trusted, reliable source under legalization.[iv]

4. Depending on your age, you WILL be treated differently than your older/younger friends under the law.

Even if your friends are similar in age and maturity to you, a year or two of difference is all it takes to differentiate a child and an adult, especially in the eyes of the law. Young people over 19 should be aware that with cannabis legalization there will be harsher penalties for selling or giving cannabis to people under 19 with a maximum potential penalty of up to 14 years in jail.[v] This means that if you are 20 years old and share cannabis with a friend who is 18, you could potentially be charged with distributing to a minor.[vi]

[i] https://www.ontario.ca/page/cannabis-legalization#section-2

[ii] https://www.ontario.ca/page/cannabis-legalization#section-9

[iii] https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/4613/lawyer-warns-cannabis-bill-is-constitutionally-flawed-and-harmful

[iv] https://toronto.citynews.ca/2016/07/07/a-little-baloney-in-claim-decriminalizing-pot-wouldnt-help-youth-stop-crime/

[v] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/cannabis/article-canada-needs-to-clear-the-air-and-wipe-away-criminal-records-for/

[vi] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/pot-law-problem-for-youth-people-with-records-1.4285213