Maple Ridge psychiatrist Dr. Biju Mathew is joining others in his profession in calling for the federal government to make legal age for smoking marijuana 21.
“Marijuana shouldn’t be used on kids below 25,” Mathew said.
The Cannabis Act, introduced by the federal government last week, calls for the minimum age for using recreational marijuana to be 18, although provinces have the option to raise that.
“They have [proposed to] legalized pot, and they’ve also come up with stricter regulations, but they have lowered the age to 18, which is very disturbing,” Mathew, president of the B.C. Psychiatric Association, said of the federal government.
He has been practising for more than 30 years.
“Nowadays, kids are using pot from a very young age, 12 to 13. If they continue to when they’re 16, they have a greater chance of developing psychosis, than if they’re not using.”
He said there’s plenty of evidence linking psychosis in youth and young adults to early and long-term marijuana use.
“They’re more predisposed to having psychosis. Or people who are predisposed to having psychosis, get worse. We see it happening on … psychiatric wards.
“We know for a fact … that marijuana does contribute to the predisposition of having psychosis when kids use marijuana from a young age.”
The Canadian Psychiatric Association has called for raising the age to 21, as well as limiting the potency and amounts that people between 21 and 25 years old could buy.
It said last week that there’s a “strong evidence base” that shows that “early and regular” pot use can affect thinking, memory, intelligence and attention.
“Research shows that the human brain continues to develop around the age of 25. Therefore, psychiatrists are concerned that the regular use of cannabis prior to that age may negatively affect the brain’s healthy maturation process,” said the association.
“The people who published the paper … have been in the field for a long time. And they would not have come up with a statement just like that without adequate evidence,” Mathew said.
Neither should marijuana be used to help people with mental issues.
“As far as we’re concerned, there’s no room for marijuana in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.”
He suggested that when recreational marijuana is legalized a year from now, packages have warning labels, as does tobacco.
“Education is the most important thing,” said Mathew. “We still have to be proactive, just like we did with smoking or obesity.”
Many people may not be aware of the hazards, he added.
Port Coquitlam NDP candidate Mike Farnworth in March criticized the provincial government for not responding to the pending legislation, such as deciding how recreational marijuana will be sold or regulated.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Liberal candidate Doug Bing said he’s heard nothing from party headquarters since.
“I haven’t heard it mentioned at the door step once. I don’t know if that’s a concern for people or not, but I haven’t heard a thing.”
Most people are just trying to pay their bills or keep their job, he said.
“Those are things that really seem to be on the top of people’s minds right now.”
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Green party candidate Alex Pope welcomes the suggestion by the psychiatric association.
When the association has done studies and is making suggestions, “I think we should listen.
“The legislation … is a good starting point. And I don’t think the conversation should end there. I think we need to listen to people’s input and find ways to adjust that,” Pope said.
Although, he welcomes the legislation, “I tell my kids, ‘Don’t use drugs,’ and I include marijuana in that.
“We need to listen to the people who are bringing forward these issues. How do you do research on something that’s illegal?”
The experience of other countries should also be considered, “because it is working in other countries.”
Pope said previous approach of criminalizing has been proven not to work. But he wants more research before he decides what the age limit should be.
Mike Murray, the Conservative candidate in the 2015 federal election, also spoke out against the law.
“The federal Liberals don’t care. This is how they won. The so-called champions of evidence-based legislation,” Murray said on Facebook.