The Canadian Medical Association is recommending strict regulation of marijuana – including a minimum purchase age of 21.

The doctors' group outlined its recommendations in a submission to a federal taskforce working on legalization legislation, which is expected to be tabled next spring.

“Existing evidence on marijuana points to the importance of protecting the brain during its development,” the CMA submission states.

“Since that development is only finalized by about 25 years of age, this would be an ideal minimum age based on currently accepted scientific evidence,” the submission states.

However, it also suggests 25 is unrealistic, considering that the current average age of first use in Canada is 16, so a lower age “should be considered in order to deter youth from seeking marijuana from organized crime groups, where they are exposed to other more dangerous drugs…”

The CMA notes that they surveyed doctors and more than a quarter supported 21 as the minimum age, while about a fifth selected 18 and another fifth selected 25. Therefore it is recommending 21.

The potential health harms of marijuana, according to the CMA, include:

  • Addiction
  • Cardiovascular effects
  • Pulmonary effects like chronic bronchitis
  • Mental illness
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Higher incidence of psychosis disorders like schizophrenia
  • Injuries from impaired driving

The submission stresses that it does not take a position on whether marijuana should be legal in general, but that it supports a public health approach to dealing with the consequences.

It argues that, because marijuana is harmful to health, “normalization” should be targeted in much the same way as tobacco and alcohol.

The other recommendations include:

  • Minimum age of 21 and minimum age of 25 for more potent products
  • Prohibiting marketing of marijuana, similar to tobacco products
  • Putting marijuana in “plain packaging” that outlines the health risks
  • Minimum pricing to discourage use
  • Taxing it and giving the money mostly to the provinces and territories to counteract health care and law enforcement costs
  • Restrictions on the maximum level of THC
  • Restrictions on “edibles,” such as child-proof packaging
  • Limitations on where marijuana can be sold
  • Pilot projects in certain jurisdictions before going nation-wide
  • A process to identify, test and charge individuals who are driving under the influence
  • Funding more public education because “awareness of the harms of marijuana is generally low”
  • Funding more research related to marijuana
  • Selling it in liquor stores or other retail outlets, but not in health care settings like pharmacies
  • Allowing sales only a certain distance away from schools, parks, playgrounds, colleges and universities
  • Expanding access to substance abuse, mental health and social stabilization services

Health Minister Jane Philpott told the UN General Assembly in New York on April 20 – an annual day of celebration among pot-smokers -- that legalization legislation will be introduced spring 2017.

"I am proud to stand up for our drug policy that is informed by solid scientific evidence and uses a lens of public health to maximize education and minimize harm,” said the minister, who was also a physician.

Philpott argued that legislation will keep marijuana “out of the hands of children, and profits out of the hands of criminals.”

Although the Conservatives under Stephen Harper opposed legalization, Tory MP Lisa Raitt told CTV’s Power Play in April that her party “will look at what the legislation does” and “put forth amendments where we see fit.”

Raitt added that she’s not convinced legalization will keep the drug out of the hands of children, adding that it will take “a heck of a piece of legislation for that to happen.”