cannabis adult-use legal age youth teenagers research

What Should Be The Legal Age For Cannabis? Researchers Weigh In

Part of responsible cannabis use is ensuring that it stays out of the hands of children. Cannabis may not be as harmful as many common household cleaners, however, it should still be kept out of the hands of children.

Limited circumstances will always exist in which medical cannabis is needed to treat a young patient, as directed by a doctor, so there’s always exceptions. Yet in a vast majority of situations, cannabis and kids should not mix.

At some point a person becomes an adult and then it’s a different matter. A responsible adult can consume cannabis in most instances without any major side effects.

Cannabis is safer than alcohol, and in a growing number of jurisdictions it is being regulated like alcohol, which begs the question – what should be the legal age for adult-use cannabis? Just as the legal age for alcohol differs from country to country, will the same be true for cannabis?

What Does the Research Say?

Canada set the legal age for adult-use cannabis at 19 years old when it legalized cannabis in 2018.

Compare that to the United States, where individual states that have legalized cannabis for adult-use set the legal age at 21 years old. Uruguay is the only other country to have legalized cannabis for adult use other than Canada, and the legal age there is 18.

Many cannabis opponents both inside and outside of Canada bemoaned the legal age limit leading up to legalization because they thought the legal age was too low.

The results of a new study out of Canada suggest that the minimum legal age (MLA) there was optimal.

“Our study indicated that there is merit in setting 19 years as MLA for non-medical cannabis,” the studies authors concluded.

“We found different MLAs for different outcomes: 21 for educational attainment, 19 for cigarette smoking and mental health, and 18 for general health. Assuming equal weight for these individual outcomes, the ‘overall’ MLA for cannabis use was estimated to be 19 years. Our results were robust to various robustness checks,” the study’s authors went on to say.

Other Factors Need to be Considered

Public health is obviously a major concern when it comes to legalizing any intoxicating substance. Cannabis may be much safer than alcohol, however, it is still an intoxicant.

At what age does a reasonable person become able to consume cannabis responsibly and not hurt themselves or someone else, such as by knowing to not get behind the wheel of a car when they are unable to safely operate a motor vehicle?

If a person is old enough to vote for legalization, shouldn’t they be able to partake in the new freedom? Or are they still too young?

Considering the fact that unregulated cannabis is widely available just about everywhere, does that warrant a lower legal age limit than 21 for cannabis in order to combat the unregulated market that does not test its products? If so, how much lower?

Obviously, there is a balance that needs to be struck somewhere, and determining exactly what’s the right balance is vital to the success of legalization everywhere.


  • Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference and has blogged about cannabis since January 2010.

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