Is the legal age for cannabis where it needs to be?

Northern Medical Program professor Dr. Russ Callaghan is embarking on a new one-year study to assess impacts of the Cannabis Act on motor vehicle collision (MVC) injuries involving young people and cannabis-impaired driving.

“In the public discourse, one of the major concerns that cannabis legalization may increase cannabis use and increase cannabis related harms, and those particular harms will be situated among young people especially,” Callaghan told Vista Radio. “Young people have some of the highest levels of use of cannabis and they also have the highest rates of motor vehicle collision injuries, so looking at this particular population is probably a good first step in trying to identify the potential harms associated with legalizations.”

The research is supported through a $124,000 grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research, which, as Callaghan says, will help in supporting that first-look at the data and the question itself in whether there is any impact in MVC injuries in the period immediately following the legalization.

The UNBC professor also looks to see the impact of the minimum legal cannabis age. In Alberta and Quebec, the minimum age is 18 years, whereas the rest of the country is 19.

“My basic hypothesis is that its the young people who are freed from the minimum legal cannabis age laws that can purchase cannabis online or in brick and mortar stores that are going to have the largest increases in motor vehicle collision injuries.”

Dr. Callaghan and his team will examine data gathered from emergency departments across Canada in order to determine the effects of legalizing recreational cannabis use on patterns of MVC injuries among youth and young adults.

“I have a sense that you’re going to see this pattern across all the provinces and territories where you’re going to see an increase in motor vehicle collision injuries immediately after legalization. The important thing to remember is that the roll-out of cannabis legalization in the retail market in the provinces and territories is quite different.”

“I think the roll-out is going to also affect cannabis use, and also the injuries,” Callaghan added. “In general, I’m predicting the legalization will increase the patterns of motor vehicle collision injuries among young people that are just older than the legal cannabis age.”

The project includes collaborators from Dalhousie University and the University of Victoria. The study is part of Dr. Callaghan’s ongoing research assessing the potential health risks associated with cannabis use and the potential impacts of cannabis legalization on use and related harms.

While the study has been funded for the first initial year, Callaghan plans to access that data and continue to study it in hopes of sparking conversation surrounding the legalization of cannabis.