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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 6 - Users and uses: form, practice, context

To summarize

In the absence of recent reliable data on a national scale, we can only hypothesize. For the population over age 16, there is reason to believe that cannabis use is as follows:




Based on the last census, there are approximately 20 million Canadians between the ages of 18 and 64. If we accept the values used in this graph, there are then approximately 2 million Canadians over age 18 who have used cannabis during the preceding 12 months, approximately 600,000 who have used it during the past month, and approximately 100,000 who use it daily.

In young people aged 12 to 17, the situation could be as follows:




According to the latest census, there are approximately 2.5 millions young persons aged 12 – 17 in Canada. If 40% have used cannabis in the preceding year and 30% in the past month, this means 1 million and 750,000 young users in each category respectively. Approximately 225,000 would make daily use of cannabis.

Overall, these epidemiological trends indicate a number of things. At the simplest level, they clearly show division by generation and gender: people under the age of 35 consume more than those over 35; and men are more frequent consumers than women. Furthermore, users are more likely to be single. The data appear constant both over time and among countries.

At the same time, there have been changes to the user profile. Rates for the 30‑49 age group have tended to increase, supporting to some extent the hypothesis that these are the first cohorts of ’70s users. Although the tendency in the ’60s was to identify users as working-class or unemployed, there has been an increase in employed individuals with post-secondary or university education.

Some authors link usage to living in an urban area–for example, in the Netherlands, use is far more widespread in metropolitan than in rural areas. This factor does not apply in Canada. In Ontario for example, students outside Toronto consume more cannabis than do those in Metro Toronto. Cannabis use is also related to non-practice of religion, families in which at least one parent has a post-secondary education, and single parent families.[1][28]  

According to the Ontario studies, age of initial use seems to be lower than it was in the 1970s (close to 16 years of age); it now stands at between 13 and 15 years of age (a mean of approximately 14). On the other hand, as we have said, early initial experience is down (currently 2% compared to 8% in the early 1980s). If age of first experience appears related to regular consumption in late adolescence and early adulthood (18-25 years) as suggested by the American studies, it is clear that consumption is inversely proportional to age and the rate of cessation is high. For those who continue to consume in the long term, the age of cessation is delayed until the late 30s.

On a more complex level, these trends would lend support the OFDT hypothesis concerning “trivialization” of cannabis consumption. The following section shows that a number of researchers–including persons who have testified before the Committee–impute this “trivialization” to a reduction in the perception of cannabis-related risks (health and legal consequences) and greater availability. Aside from “trivialization”, there is also an acculturation aspect, the idea that cannabis will eventually be considered a psychoactive substance akin to alcohol or tobacco, whose risks we learn to recognize and manage.

Furthermore, cannabis consumption rates vary widely from one country to another with no apparent relation to public policy. This is one of the strong hypotheses that we will revisit in greater detail in our Chapter 21 examination of public policy.




[1][28]  See for example Rigter, H. and M von Laar (2002) “Epidemiological aspects of cannabis use.” in Pelc, I. (ed.) International Scientific Conference on Cannabis. Brussels.

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