Skip to main content

Not being first has its advantages when it comes to social policy reforms. For instance, it opens the possibility of piggy-backing on costly research conducted elsewhere.

Three cheers, then, for the State of Colorado, which has compiled a deep trove of useful data when it comes to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. The Liberal government's new Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, announced Thursday, should take a look at what's there.

Case in point: Opponents of legal weed often fret that young people's consumption could skyrocket in a more permissive environment. Colorado's experience argues otherwise.

Health officials there recently published conclusions from a wide-ranging survey of nearly 20,000 middle-school and secondary students. The central finding: Colorado's schools have not become stoner nirvanas.

The biennial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey showed in 2015 that about 21 per cent of respondents had used marijuana in the preceding 30 days (62 per cent said they had never consumed it). It's essentially the same proportion as in 2013, the year following legalization, and lower than in 2009. Nor are Colorado's kids using the drug more than the national average.

Canada will surely introduce age restrictions on legalized cannabis next year. Policy-makers may wish to bear in mind that in Colorado, where the minimum age is 21, nearly 60 per cent of respondents said pot is relatively easy or very easy to obtain (about the same number said the same for alcohol).

Selling pot in stores and taxing it heavily hasn't killed the black market – 79 per cent of respondents acquired their dope via non-legal means, and about one in 10 scored from someone with a medical marijuana licence.

Attitudes are also shifting. In 2013, more than half of respondents agreed with the assertion marijuana use is risky; two years later, only 48 per cent did.

Surveys are limited tools, but the basic conclusion – legalization in and of itself has not led to a boom in teenaged pot consumption – will help settle one small aspect of a broader argument. Ottawa plans to introduce legislation in the spring of next year but is only just beginning to look at the issue in depth. Thankfully, someone else has been doing it for them.