Study finds reduction in youth cannabis offences after legalization
Looking at daily national counts of police-reported youth cannabis offenses, Dr. Russ Callaghan and his team found that the 2018 legalization of cannabis in Canada was associated with immediate reductions in these types of offenses.
New research from UBC Northern Medical Program Professor Dr. Russ Callaghan has found that Canada’s cannabis legalization, implemented in 2018, was associated with immediate reductions in police-reported youth cannabis-related offenses.
The study was published in Addiction, an international peer-reviewed scientific journal.
“Even though study results are not surprising, they are important,” says Dr. Callaghan. “A central goal of the Cannabis Act aimed to reduce youth involvement with the criminal justice system because of cannabis-related offenses. Our results provide initial evidence supporting one of the main goals of this legislation.”
The Canadian federal government implemented the Cannabis Act on October 17, 2018, which is a guiding framework for cannabis legalization in Canada. A primary goal of this legislation seeks to prevent cannabis use and related harms among youth.
Dr. Callaghan and his team looked at daily national counts of police-reported youth cannabis offenses, which were comprised primarily of cannabis-possession crimes. The study reviewed crime data from January 1, 2015-December 31, 2018 originating from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey – a database capturing all police-reported criminal incidents in the country. The team found that, immediately after cannabis legalization, police-reported criminal incidents among male and female youth for cannabis-related crimes dropped significantly by 55 to 65 per cent.
“Most of the available research evaluating cannabis legalization has focused on cannabis-related harms, but this current research examines the potential benefits of legalization,” says Callaghan. “The criminalization of youth for cannabis-related crimes, such as cannabis possession, puts a tremendous burden on Canadian youth and the criminal justice system.
“My hope is that these findings will help policymakers, public health officials, and the public better gauge both the costs and benefits of cannabis legalization in Canadian society.”
The project included a national team of researchers from UNBC, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Guelph University, and Dalhousie University. Dr. Callaghan and his team are currently conducting a follow-up study to examine the impacts of cannabis legalization on police-reported crimes over a longer 14.5-month follow-up period. The results of this follow-up study should be available in late fall of 2021.
The study is part of Dr. Callaghan’s ongoing research assessing the potential harms and benefits of cannabis legalization on key Canadian public health outcomes, such as youth health, cannabis-related emergency department utilization, cannabis-induced psychoses, and motor vehicle collisions.
This research was supported in part by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Catalyst Grant (Cannabis Research in Urgent Priority Areas).