Impact of Cannabis Legalization on Youth Contact with the Criminal Justice System

Published by
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
Publication Date
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) provided funding to Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Dr. Scot Wortley from the University of Toronto to research youth interactions with the criminal justice system, including the nature and outcomes of those interactions.

The Cannabis Act marked an important step in the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada. One of the primary objectives of the Act is to protect youth and divert profits away from organized crime and illicit markets. To date, little is known about the effects of the Cannabis Act on young people’s contact with the criminal justice system

The research analyzes data about youth interactions with the justice system, including the nature and outcomes of their interactions. This report summarizes key findings from the study and include:

  • Reported cannabis possession charges declined after legalization, but the severity of charges increased. 

  • Reduction in cannabis possession charges was seen more in adults 18 years and older than in youth between 12–17 years old. 

  • Variations are reported in the treatment of youth charged with cannabis possession across the provinces and territories. 

  • Youth made up the majority of those charged with cannabis possession and were also more likely to receive criminal charges.

  • There were fewer trafficking and sales charges for youth compared to adults. 

  • Further research is needed to understand how youth contact with the criminal justice system may evolve over time.