Teens to Trudeau: No, pot isn't easier to get than alcohol - Macleans.ca

Teens to Trudeau: No, pot isn’t easier to get than alcohol

And that raises key questions about what the Trudeau government’s legalization of marijuana is really likely to accomplish



There’s a point Prime Minister Justin Trudeau often circles back to when he’s asked to explain his motivation for legalizing marijuana. “We need to make sure it’s at least as difficult for a young person to get their hands on marijuana as it is for alcohol,” he said in a typical exchange this summer on City’s Breakfast Television show in Vancouver. “Right now, it’s way easier to get a joint than a bottle of beer.”

Trudeau repeats this claim so often that it’s clear he regards it as a persuasive, real-world observation. If he’s right that it’s easier—indeed, way easier—to get illicit weed than mere beer, then presumably marijuana will also become harder for young people to acquire after he changes the law to treat pot more like alcohol. After all, as he says, “There’s no black market for beer.”

But the way Trudeau ranks the availability of the two most popular intoxicants poses a problem: teenagers don’t agree with him. By a wide margin, more of them say booze is easy to get than think weed is easy to come by. This under-examined finding comes from the authoritative Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey (CSTADS), which probes the views of thousands of students, every two years, about the substances they use and sometimes abuse.

The survey helpfully asks about “ease of access.” The 2014-15 edition of CSTADS, which Health Canada funds and federal policy-makers rely on extensively, found that 41 per cent of students in Grades 7 to 12 thought it was “very easy” or “fairly easy” to obtain marijuana. When asked the same question about alcohol, fully 67 per cent said it is “very easy” or “fairly easy” to get. The survey was taken by 42,094 students—a huge sample—from all 10 provinces between fall 2014 and spring 2015.

READ: Why Ontario’s pot plan will keep the black market alive

Experts tend to agree with the students. Asked about Trudeau’s assertions that alcohol is far less easy to get than marijuana, Dr. Karen Leslie, who heads the adolescent substance abuse program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said, “I don’t see on what basis that claim would be made.” Like several other leading researchers Maclean’s contacted, she pointed to studies that consistently show alcohol is far more often consumed by young people than marijuana.

According to CSTADS, for instance, 40 per cent of Grade 7-12 students reported drinking alcohol in the past 12 months, more than double the 17 per cent who said they had smoked marijuana in that period. “Teenagers are not having a difficult time in getting alcohol,” Leslie said, “even though, in theory, they’re not legally able to purchase it.”

Of course, imposing new regulations around marijuana—similar to those long used to prevent underage drinkers from buying alcohol in bars or stores—is bound to change the way the drug marketplace functions. The federal law to legalize sale of marijuana to adults will make it a crime to sell to anyone younger than 18 (provinces can set a higher age limit). It imposes tough sentences—up to 14 years in jail—for supplying cannabis to youth. Packaging and promotion that might appeal to young people won’t be allowed.

Still, if age-based restrictions haven’t made alcohol hard for teenagers to get, why would a parallel strategy work for marijuana? “My presumption is that ease of access will not change much,” said Mark Asbridge, a professor in Dalhousie University’s Department of Community Health and Epidemiology , who specializes in addiction, with a focus on young people. “Those youth who want cannabis can get it rather easily now, and this will remain so afterwards. However, the source of supply or channels of access may change.”

The prospect that marijuana, like alcohol, will still be very easy for young people to get after Trudeau’s law comes into force next year raises questions about the reform’s stated core purpose. The list of objectives in Bill C-45, the federal act to legalize marijuana, starts with “prevent young persons from accessing cannabis.” (The act’s other major aims include establishing strict product safety standards for legal marijuana and reducing the burden of enforcing marijuana prohibition laws now borne by police and courts.)

READ: Why a legal toking age of 21 would be hypocritical

A spokesman for federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said CSTAD’s findings reflect only youth “perceptions” about ease of access, whereas Trudeau’s comments refer to how teenagers now buy marijuana directly from dealers, but, to get alcohol, have to take the extra step of asking older friends or siblings, say, to purchase it for them, or perhaps steal it from their parents. The spokesman said the tough new penalties for selling to young people are designed to make it harder for teenagers to find marijuana to buy illegally.

It’s worth noting—regardless of the new law’s effect on how young people get pot in the future—that worried parents and politicians can take comfort from trends in recent years. According to CSTADS, marijuana smoking among Grade 7-12 students has fallen steadily from 27 per cent in 2008-09, to 21 per cent in 2010-11, and 19 per cent in 2012-13, before dipping to the 17 per cent reported for 2014-15. Similarly, 24 per cent of those students reported drinking excessively in 2014-15—defined as consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion—steeply down from 39 per cent who said they’d binged in 2008-09.

Beyond trying to further reduce youth marijuana use by enforcing new rules, the Liberal plan calls for changing attitudes through public education. Here too, however, experts are wary. According to Rebecca Haines-Saah, a University of Calgary researcher on substance abuse and mental health, follow-up studies show anti-drug campaigns rarely work. “My greatest fear,” Haines-Saah says, “is we’ll use this policy window to do the same old crappy, ‘Don’t use drugs, it’ll fry your brain,’ type of messaging that we’ve always done under prohibition.”

Other experts share her concern about the coming federal public education push. “We have to be less paternalistic and state the facts, be less judgemental,” says Dr. Greg Taylor, who retired late last year as Canada’s chief public health officer. Taylor added that when it comes to marijuana, as with alcohol, any warnings aimed at young people are liable to be drowned out by society-wide glamorization of a product legally and enthusiastically consumed by adults.

READ: Ottawa’s dangerous hustle to legalize weed

Dr. Richard Bélanger, who co-wrote the Canadian Paediatric Society’s position paper on marijuana, agrees that devising strategies for getting through to young people, even at the one-on-one level of doctors talking to patients, is a daunting task. One major challenge is how to present information to those most at risk of developing drug dependency, like young people struggling with anxiety, depression or learning problems. “We really need to not stigmatize anyone,” Bélanger says.

The youth addiction experts interviewed by Maclean’s offered a wide range of ideas about what a public education campaign should address—from flagging the dangers of marijuana-impaired driving, to explaining the risks marijuana poses with regard to brain development, to clearly outlining the new rules and penalties. No matter the topic, though, they all agreed that young people quickly see through unlikely claims. As for the Prime Minister’s assertion that alcohol is way harder to get than marijuana, it’s a safe bet that teenagers are skeptical.

WATCH: What Canadians think about alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes


Teens to Trudeau: No, pot isn’t easier to get than alcohol

  1. I was wondering the same question. Why legalize a psychotic hallucinogen that:

    Causes mental illness.
    Police cannot test for impairment from.
    Will push criminal drug activity to making more dangerous drugs readily available.
    Will make more of the drug available to children when it’s freely grown in back yards.
    Stays in the body for months ensuring that all users are permanently stoned

    Why make this an election promise?

    Then it hit me. Liberals use pot and pot makes liberals.

    It impedes critical thinking.
    It makes people not care, looking like narcissistic tolerance.
    It distorts perception of reality.
    It encourages delusional fantasy.

    Did Trudeau know of a correlation between pot use and liberal characteristics when he decided legalization was in his political interests?

    If so, considering all the terrible effects this will have on society some of which I have already given, legalization is at least a conflict of interest and more likely a crime against humanity.

    • Prescription Drugs and alcohol are far worse problem that pot will every be. Your “facts” are all made up and not specific symptoms of pot use. “It makes people not care, looking like narcissistic tolerance.” This is the most contrived statement I have ever seen. You must have just binge watched reefer madness. I think you are one with the delusional fantasy. I’d let my kid smoke pot way before letting them drink or take pills. The drugs that parents give their children so they can cope with them are far worse than pot. The parents should smoke pot and stop giving pills to children. I have several university degrees, a career, cars, houses etc and I smoke pot regularly. No delusional fantasies or wild statements and accusations coming from me. OMG

      • Why would anyone believe what you say to be true? You’re admittedly Stoned all the time. That 24/7 impairment separates you from reality.

        The negative effects I have stated are 100% true, fact and reality that can be easily verified.

        The liberal/stoned characteristics are easily observable and can be confirmed by psychologists who deal with pot and mental illness all the time.

        • The endocannabinoid system, named after the plant that led to its discovery, is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.

          Do some research on the endocannabinoid system.

          Suggested seraches;

          Cannabis, Cancer, Apoptosis, Anti-angiogenesis

          Patent 6630507 filed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services related to the application of cannabinoids as neuroprotective agents.

          Delta-9 THC removes amyloid-beta protein plaque buildup from brain cell tissue in lab studies.

          We are all ruled by our own biases and it is up to each of us to set those biases aside when we are presented with new information that contradicts our currently accepted understanding of the facts.

          Some do it willingly, and some do it reluctantly, and there are those in society who are simply unwilling to accept new factual information if it contradicts what they already believe.

    • I think your confusion partially lies in equating legally regulating a substance with inventing or introducing it. We aren’t arguing over whether or not cannabis should exist, rather, we are debating what is the optimal, not utopian, regulatory model for reducing the costs and maximizing the benefits of cannabis in society. Abdicating control to the criminal underworld makes matters worse.

      You’re also mistaken about the effects of cannabis. Cannabis does not cause mental illness, although strains that are high in THC but lacking in CBD and some important terpenes, the sort black market cultivators prefer, may trigger psychosis in those so predisposed. Additionally, most chronic cannabis consumers are self-medicating emotional and psychological problems such as ADHD and PTSD, typically stemming from childhood trauma, making cannabis “linked to” and “associated with” mental health problems and poor life outcomes.

      The police lack a roadside screening device for a medicine cabinet full of impairing substances, including pain killers, cold remedies, sedatives, sleep aids, etc. Cannabis is hardly unique in this respect.

      While it is true that cannabinoid metabolites can be detected in bodily fluids for days or weeks following ingestion, these metabolites are not psychoactive. A cannabis “high” lasts for a few hours when cannabis is smoked or vaporized and a few more hours when cannabis is eaten.

      The LPC rationale for legalization is ostensibly to displace the black market and reduce access for minors. The first goal will certainly be accomplished. Washington State, for example, has moved over 80 per cent of the market into legally regulated channels. Legal regulation could reduce youth access, but ease of access does not have a significant impact on usage rates. So what if it takes 15 minutes and not 5 minutes to obtain cannabis? Further, teens who wish to obtain cannabis but can’t typically turn to more problematic alternatives like alcohol. That said, as with alcohol, minors will likely get cannabis diverted from the regulated market, so it will be quality controlled, taxed and accounted for.

      There are many of good reasons for legalizing cannabis, among them, we are spending hundreds of millions annually criminalizing tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Canadians with no evidence whatsoever that doing so has any redeeming value. Usage rates rise and fall with no statistical relationship to cannabis laws and their enforcement. Prohibition also competes and interferes with research, education, treatment and harm reduction.

      As for “terrible effects,” cannabis is an economic substitute for alcohol, opiates and other licit and illicit drugs, such that when cannabis use goes up, drinking and other drug use goes down, along with the “terrible effects.” Alcohol, for example, is implicated in almost half of all homicides, suicides, accidents and sexual assaults. Opiate overdose deaths have dropped 25 per cent on average in U.S. states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes.

      • The structure of your reply was better than it’s inadequate content.

        We are not debating the existence of marijuana. We are debating the merit versus risk of its legalization.

        Cannabis causes mental illness as much as cigarettes cause cancer. Not everyone who smokes must develop cancer for that statement to be true.

        Here is the proof. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-205447/Cannabis-causes-mental-illness.html

        The lack of roadside screening for prescription medications does not logically support the legalization of over the counter psychotic hallucinogens.

        Cannabis stays in the fatty tissues of the brain for more than a month where it continues to affect the brain.

        Criminals will not give up their lives of crime when pot is cheap and available to everyone. They will simply find a more powerful hallucinogen that people will pay for. The end of prohibition did not end the mobs interest in recreational drugs.

        • CBD prevented human experimental psychosis and was effective in open case reports and clinical trials in patients with schizophrenia with a remarkable safety profile. Moreover, fMRI results strongly suggest that the antipsychotic effects of CBD in relation to the psychotomimetic effects of Δ(9)-THC involve the striatum and temporal cortex that have been traditionally associated with psychosis. Although the mechanisms of the antipsychotic properties are still not fully understood, we propose a hypothesis that could have a heuristic value to inspire new studies. These results support the idea that CBD may be a future therapeutic option in psychosis, in general and in schizophrenia, in particular.


    • The endocannabinoid system, named after the plant that led to its discovery, is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.

      Do some research on the endocannabinoid system.

      Suggested seraches;

      Cannabis, Cancer, Apoptosis, Anti-angiogenesis

      Patent 6630507 filed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services related to the application of cannabinoids as neuroprotective agents.

      Delta-9 THC removes amyloid-beta protein plaque buildup from brain cell tissue in lab studies.

      We are all ruled by our own biases and it is up to each of us to set those biases aside when we are presented with new information that contradicts our currently accepted understanding of the facts.

      Some do it willingly, and some do it reluctantly, and there are those in society who are simply unwilling to accept new factual information if it contradicts what they already believe.

  2. Please do not confuse our Government with the actual FACTS.

    The Canadian prime minister promised to use best practices and best science in the formation of our government’s cannabis policy but that is not what is happening.

    Our government is being misinformed by organizations, such as the CCSA, that are pervaded by negative bias against all forms of cannabis use and as a result, our legislation we will be full of flaws based on gross misconceptions regarding how cannabis affects individual human physiology.

    Current legislation seems more fixated on the potential profits generated by the emerging recreational Cannabis industry rather than the many medical benefits that cannabinoid therapy could provide to a large segment of the Canadian population.

    Please research phytocannabinoids, the endocannabinoid system, and look up patent 6630507, just for starters, before making any assumptions about Cannabis Use and general health and DO NOT let unfounded fear and negative bias block access to the many medical benefits of Cannabinoid Therapy.


    • Real medicinal marijuana is refined by chemists to remove much of the dangerous psychotic effects and is carefully prescribed by doctors.

      Legalization will allow anyone to grow about 10 pounds of any strength unrefined pot in their open backyards.

      Yes, don’t confuse people.

      • Like the black and grey markets, the licensed producers (real medicinal cannabis) provide a variety of cannabis strains with varying levels of THC (the cannabinoid that can trigger psychosis in vulnerable individuals) and CBD (an anti-psychotic).

        No, medicinal cannabis is not carefully prescribed by doctors. They usually authorize more than the patient needs and leave it to the patient to titrate their own dose. They usually do not specify the potency and cannabinoid ratios of the cannabis they recommend. This works because it is physically impossible to fatally overdose on cannabis and determining the desired dose is relatively easy by trial and error.

        Bill C-45 would allow adults to cultivate up to 4 plants less than one meter high. While it is possible to grow 10 pounds from four plants less than a meter high, a more typical yield from plants that size is about a quarter pound per plant, less if it is grown in a back yard under natural light.

      • As an ACMPR holder I can personally attest to the quality of medicines produced via home production. It is more effective in smaller quantities than anything I can purchase from a LP.

        • No kidding?

          You are stoned 24/7. You have been separated from recognizing reality since at least the last time you hadn’t touched cannabis for two months.

          You are living impaired.

          Of course your “best results” are from the most psychotic hallucinogens.

          Why would anyone believe anything you say?

          • The daily use of Cannabis medicine results in a complete tolerance to the psychoactive effects of THC due to the receding of CB1 receptors in the central nervous system, specifically the brain, and thus there is no impairment in the ability to operate a motor vehicle.


            Recreational use is most often neither based on consistent strain and concentration of product as the user is seeking very different results than that of a medicinal user.

            A medicinal user spends a great deal of time and effort finding the exact dosage , concentration, and specific product to use, and then strives to maintain a systemic daily dose.

            this method of medicinal administration results in a complete tolerance to the psychoactive effects of THC but a recreational user is usually seeking the ‘high’ from THC and thus uses the product much differently

          • Here we show that a low dose of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reversed the age-related decline in cognitive performance of mice aged 12 and 18 months. This behavioral effect was accompanied by enhanced expression of synaptic marker proteins and increased hippocampal spine density. THC treatment restored hippocampal gene transcription patterns such that the expression profiles of THC-treated mice aged 12 months closely resembled those of THC-free animals aged 2 months.


          • June 27, 2016
            Cannabinoids remove plaque-forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells

            Preliminary lab studies at the Salk Institute find THC reduces beta amyloid proteins in human neurons

          • If you need help understanding anything I have posted, Just ask; I will try to explain it slowly in my ‘stoned’ state.

            If cannabis is so damaging to the intelligence of an individual who has used it daily for over a decade, then dispute my posts as it should be easy for a super smart person like you who does not use cannabis.

          • Medically prepared prescribed and dispensed cannabis based medicines are not at issue.

            Legalizing the over the counter unregulated use of all strengths and doses of cannabis with all the associated negative effects is.

            Try to stay focussed. How hard that must be for you.

          • You posted a link to ‘an article’; I have posted links to scientific studies.

            You have nothing but your uninformed opinion and you unable to dispute the scientific evidence I have presented so your claims have been debunked regardless of whether or not you admit it.

            Educate your self on the human endocannabinoid system and learn something and it will help you drop your ideological ignorance on cannabis use.

        • “with all the associated negative effects”; What ‘deleterious effects are you speaking of, and provide evidence please.

          • I’ve already done both.

            If you weren’t stoned you might have noticed.

  3. One other important negative effect is that legalization will make all of Canada a recognized drug source country and every Canadian and all travellers to Canada will be subject to much stricter border searches and delays.

    • That is a big load of hooey. USA customs already targets us around pot use when we try to go there. Even though the USA already has much legal pot and we have none. You will also see rapid legalization around the world, especially in Tourist countries.

  4. The obvious reason for legalizing pot? We FINALLY have a good reason for the metric system his father brought in. Much easier to measure in grams,kilos,etc.. Now they both have a legacy.

    • All good except the majority are buying Ounces and quarter ounces. Pot is still more commonly sold pounds than kilos.