A new national survey offers timely answers to an important question at the heart of the government's marijuana legalization effort: how many young Canadians actually use cannabis?
The fresh data, released by the federal government on June 12, measured drug use by 52,103 Canadian students in grades 7 to 12 between October 2016 and June 2017. (The previous Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey was conducted from 2014 to 2015.)
Seventeen per cent of students in grades 7 to 12 said they had used cannabis in the 12 months leading up to the survey. To put that in context, cannabis is still much less popular than alcohol, which was used by 44 per cent of students in the previous year. The rate of student cannabis use didn't change from the previous survey two years earlier.
On average, student cannabis users were 14.2 years old the first time they tried weed, with initial use coming slightly later for female students. Students tried alcohol slightly earlier than cannabis — on average, they had their first tipple at 13.4 years old.
For the first time ever, the survey asked student cannabis users how they consumed. Eighty per cent said they smoked it; 34 per cent said they used edibles; 30 per cent reported vaporizer use; and 22 per cent used dabs. Just 14 per cent said they drank a cannabis beverage.
Student perceptions of the harms of cannabis seem to have softened since the previous survey.
Nineteen per cent felt smoking cannabis once in a while put people at "great risk" of harming themselves in 2016-2017, down from 25 per cent who felt that way in 2014-2015. Conversely, the proportion of students who thought there is "no risk" from using cannabis increased from 14 per cent to 18 per cent over the two-year period.
Finally, students perceived cannabis as relatively easy to obtain, but still harder than getting access to alcohol. Thirty nine per cent of students felt it was "fairly easy" or "very easy" to score some weed, compared to 69 per cent who felt the same way about alcohol.
Here's The Leaf's takeaway: despite big worries over the impact of cannabis legalization on young Canadians, alcohol remains the drug of choice for Canadian students in grades 7 to 12. More students use alcohol than cannabis, they start using it at a younger age and find it easier to obtain.
The federal government predicated cannabis legalization on reducing youth marijuana use, so when the next Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey is released a couple years from now, they'll want to see a reduction in the 17 per cent of students who report past-year cannabis use.
If the next edition shows a big uptick in student cannabis use coinciding with legalization, Ottawa might have a problem.
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- Red Chamber green-lights legalization: After almost half a year, the Canadian Senate approved the government's cannabis legalization bill.
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Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web
- New Brunswick is ready for legalization: NB Liquor's legal cannabis stores are saddled up and champing at the bit, says the Crown corporation's CEO.
- "Everybody had better be on their best behaviour": Former Liberal cabinet minister and cannabis legalization task force leader Anne McLellan told the cannabis industry they'll be closely scrutinized by the Canadian public after legalization.
- Future imperfect: The government of Quebec has passed its provincial cannabis bill, which was described by one government minister as "probably not perfect."