How will Canadian Marijuana Legalization Affect Teens

Canada wants to legalize marijuana by Canada Day (July 1) next year. I won’t be something I’ll be celebrating considering how teens will be affected. The goal is to tax, restrict and monitor the sale of the product. The government feels that this ending of prohibition will be safe and effective. They believe that it will keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. What do you think?

Let’s compare it to the legal substance, alcohol. What are the results of legalized alcohol? How well is the government keeping this out of the hands of under age students?


  • 79% of people in Alberta over the age of 15 drink to some extent.
  • 83% of grade 12 Ontario students admit to using alcohol
  • 49% of Ontario grade 12 students admit to binge drinking
  • Among Ontario grade 11 drinkers, 13 years was the average age of first exposure, and 14 years was the average age for first intoxication experience.

What the Research Says about Cannabis

  • UNICEF reports Canadian teens are among the heaviest pot users in the world. More than 22% reported lighting up within the previous year.
  • The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says marijuana use in Canada is most common among teens and young adults. It estimates past-year use in Ontario at 23 per cent for students in Grade 7 to 12, and 40 per cent for those aged 18 to 29.
  • High frequency use in adolescence is associated with several poor outcomes, including lower academic achievement and loss of motivation (click here for the full report The Effects of Cannabis Use during Adolescence
  • higher order functions, such as cognition, academic achievement and motivation, can all be compromised. But whether the damage is temporary or reversible is still unknown.
  • It can be addictive. One in six Canadian teens who use marijuana can become dependent on the drug.
  • Linked to Psychosis; “significantly higher incidence of hallucinations, paranoia and the triggering of psychotic illness in adolescent users who are most predisposed.”

Concerns about greater availability of Marijuana

Students will…

  • think, if it is legal there is nothing wrong with using it
  • claim that it is not addictive or rob them of motivation
  • not use it moderately because of lower impulse control and poorer executive reasoning
  • find it takes more to get the same effects
  • possibly graduate to more powerful substances
  • still obtain marijuana illegally (since they cannot buy it themselves)
  • combine alcohol and cannabis
  • drive high on some occaisions

Cannabis and Christian Teens

Teens consider it hypocritical that their parents drink moderately yet object to them smoking pot moderately. They argue that alcohol is more harmful and can result in domestic violence. They also argue that the Bible says nothing about pot but does speak strongly against getting drunk.

As I spoke with Christian young adults, they said to me that their peers are lighting up. It helps them deal with the high pressures of high school and college. Their attitude is that it is not harming any one and it helps them relax. Most have no awareness of increased risk of psychosis, emotional dependence, and its impact on brain development. They downplay the possibility that it is a gateway to more powerful drugs.

Parents are often unaware that the potency of THC is much higher than what they may have experimented with when they were younger. They are also unaware of the impacts on youth who are already at risk of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Most underestimate or deny the prevalence of pot smoking among minors.

Start the Conversation

I expect that within the Christian community marijuana will eventually be as common as social drinking. It will continue to be illegal to sell it to minors but it will be easily accessible.

Youth ministries would be wise to listen to what parents and teens are thinking about this. They should also consider how they will speak to youth about this subject. It may be wise to discuss youth group policies for young adult leaders and volunteers. If you are going to set a different standard for alcohol than for Cannabis it will be important to have solid Biblical reasons and be able to explain them to students.

As acceptance for pot use increases in the culture youth ministries are going to have to learn how to work with students who see nothing wrong with it.

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email