Canadian Demography & Health of Cannabis Legalization

Updated: May 28

Because Google Adsense deemed this website to have too little content for ads, I'll be posting my top 25 undergraduate papers. This was a paper from health economics. The legalization of cannabis was a hot story at the time and it's always good when you get to focus on current events for school assignments.



Dalhousie University

ECON 2231

February 28th, 2019


The legalization of Cannabis in Canada has ushered in a new approach towards a very historically stigmatized drug. But there appears to be disparities among those who use it, by province and by gender. Although there are certain limitations to this data. When it comes to dialogue about cannabis usage, potential health effects should be at the forefront as well. So what exactly does this legal change entail?

The Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) not only decriminalized but fully legalized recreational cannabis use for the entire country of Canada. It came into effect on October 17th, 2018 and left laws regarding its sales up to the provinces.(1) Nova Scotia is an example of a province where all sales must be made in public government retail stores. Whereas in British Columbia, the sales are up to the private sector. Statistics Canada provides data on its reported usage by province and gender and before and after its legalization. British Columbia may be seen as the hemp haven of Canada, but the way its inhabitants responded to legalization is rather peculiar.

During the first quarter of 2018, 14% of polled Canadians aged 15 or older had said that they had consumed cannabis in the past three months. Whereas in British Columbia, that number was 17%. During the last quarter of 2018, after legalization, 15% of polled Canadians aged 15 or older had said that they had consumed cannabis in the past three months — the percentage of those surveyed in British Columbia equally the national average.(2) The number going down from the first quarter to the last is pretty unique considering almost all provinces had their usages increase from the first quarter to the last. As if disparities across provinces weren’t odd enough, there is a potentially more interesting disparity that exists in any population centre, and that is a gender disparity.

During the first quarter of 2018, 15.8% of Canadian males aged 15 or older had said they had used cannabis in the past three months compared to 12.2% of females. In the final quarter of 2018, 19.4% of males had said yes whereas it 11.3% of females.(3) Explaining the gender gap in cannabis usage can be difficult. However the most prominent of instincts among psychologists appears to be the idea that men tend to engage more often in perceived “risky behaviour”.(4) Is answering yes to a poll asking you about illegal activity considered risky behaviour? That gets into the potential problems with these numbers.

Although these numbers come from Statistics Canada, one can take them with a grain of salt for a couple of reasons. The first is that, especially for the first quarter numbers, some people will lie if asked about consuming drugs that are legal or had been illegal. Even if you guarantee they will not be prosecuted or they have anonymity, there will be those who do not trust their government with even those statements. The second reason is that humans have routinely lied about their consumption habits. One example is Americans over-reporting their butter consumption and under-reporting their alcohol consumption during the Great Depression.(5) Comparing usage among groups is essential, but particularly in economics, the strain on public health must be considered as well.

This legalization only affects Canadians who are at least 18 years old, and in some cases 19 years old. Therefore claims of the problems related to use in adolescence aren’t of particular relevance. Be that as it may, finding health risks for cannabis consumption is a challenge in itself. The correlation vs causation dynamic needs to be especially considered for a drug in which it is impossible to overdose on and effects motor skills exponentially less than alcohol and other common drugs as found by the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United-States.(6) The method of use is also going to make a difference. Vaporizing, smoking, edibles and oils are all likely to have different effects on health. Sanchin Patel, John W. Williams and Robert B. Wallace have done a peer-reviewed deep dive into the studies on health effects of cannabis usage so far and found very little study on the effects of vaporizing or edibles alone. As far as smoking, they explain that there appears to be some limited evidence for an increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, there is substantial evidence for an increase in adverse respiratory symptoms such as coughing and phlegm production as well as increased chance of chronic bronchitis episodes. They note that no link to be found with any cancers as of yet.(7)

Although the Cannabis Act may seem like a radical change in drug policy on paper, it appears the legalization has not changed reported usage that significantly. In fact, the reported usage went down in British Columbia and for Canadian females in general. Although, some of the data, especially before legalization, should be taken with a grain of salt given lack of trust for governments and how humans are proven liars when it comes to reporting their consumption. The effect legalization will have on public health doesn’t appear to be very significant. No connection with cancer has been made and very little study on vaporizing and edibles have been done. A significant minority of Canadians smoke cannabis regularly, and they have an increased risk of chronic bronchitis. However, it is logical to assume legalization hasn’t changed the concentration of regular consumers to a significant degree.






Bibliography


“HESA - Bill C-45, Cannabis Act” www. ourcommons.ca. Accessed February 28th, 2019.


Data from Statistics Canada, 2018, Cannabis Stats Hub.


Elder, Laurel, and Steven Greene. "Why Men Support Marijuana Legalization More than Women Do." The Washington Post. December 21, 2018. Accessed February 28, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/12/21/why-men-support-marijuana-legalization-more-than-women-do/.


Rathje, William L., and Cullen Murphy. Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001.


Ingraham, Christopher. "Stoned Drivers Are a Lot Safer than Drunk Ones, New Federal Data Show." The Washington Post. February 09, 2015. Accessed February 28, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/09/stoned-drivers-are-a-lot-safer-than-drunk-ones-new-federal-data-show/?utm_term=.8a442b6a7ce6.


Patel, Sachin, John W. Williams Jr., and Robert B. Wallace. "What We Do (and Dont) Know About the Health Effects of Cannabis and Whether Marijuana Is Medicine." Annals of Internal Medicine 166, no. 10 (2017): 747. doi:10.7326/m17-0501.













1 - “HESA - Bill C-45, Cannabis Act” www. ourcommons.ca.

2 - See Appendix 1

3 - See Appendix 2

4 - Elder, Laurel, and Steven Greene. "Why Men Support Marijuana Legalization More than Women Do." The Washington Post.

5 - Rathje, William L., and Cullen Murphy. Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001.

6 - Ingraham, Christopher. "Stoned Drivers Are a Lot Safer than Drunk Ones, New Federal Data Show." The Washington Post.

7 - Patel, Sachin, John W. Williams Jr., and Robert B. Wallace. "What We Do (and Dont) Know About the Health Effects of Cannabis and Whether Marijuana Is Medicine." Annals of Internal Medicine