Local youth have a higher likelihood of smoking pot on a regular basis than most of the country, states a new Statistics Canada report shows. The National Cannabis Survey released its results for the second quarter Aug. 9 and found 27.8 per cent of Yellowknifers above the age of 15 had smoked cannabis in the last three months. This percentage proves to be almost double the national reported average of 16 per cent. The only city with a higher rate than Yellowknife was Iqaluit with 33 per cent. Whitehorse had a rate of 23 per cent.
Because pot usage decreases with age, the report states that of these percentages, young people are more likely to consume. In fact, nationally, Stats Canada says use among 15-to 24-year olds was at 33 per cent, a figure higher than those 25 or older at 13 per cent.
Michelle Rotermann, senior analyst for the health and analysis division with Statistics Canada said the figures in the younger demographic within Yellowknife are almost double the national average at 59 per cent.
“With use being more common among the young and given that different regions of the country vary in their concentrations of youth, it is likely that at least some of the geographic variation in cannabis use prevalence is due to demographics, that is, the age of the profile of a region,” reads the report. “This is particularly true of the territorial capitals where the populations tend to be considerably younger than the rest of the country.”
The survey began at the beginning of the year with the intent of providing some information about cannabis use and the effects on behaviour immediately before and after the federal Cannabis Act comes into effect on Oct. 17. The survey of 1,000 people in the city from mid-May to mid-June touches on cannabis-impaired driving patterns, the types of cannabis products used, and the impact of amounts of dollars spent, for example. A third quarter survey began Aug. 16 and will last to Sept. 12 with results expected again in the fall.
Rotermann said that the usage among young Yellowknifers is higher because the median age (meaning the 50 per cent point between all ages) in the city is 34 years old. In other provinces, the median age is 41.
‘Cannabis use is higher’
“Virtually all research that I have ever seen is that there is a strong relationship between age and cannabis use,” she said. “It follows that if you have areas of the country where the median age is lower, then if you see in those areas that the prevalence of cannabis use is higher, we are fairly confident that age is playing a role in that higher prevalence.”
Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart has been pressing cabinet to come up with a plan to privatize sales of cannabis, in part for youth harm reduction. He said the report’s numbers are not a big surprise as community consultations involving sitting members have reported anecdotally very high rates of consumption.
“The young people would say as much as 80 per cent of youth were smoking,” he said. “They may not be accurate but the idea is that if the kids are seeing it everywhere there has to be a high rate of consumption.”
He says the high rates, particularly among youth, is important because health studies so far show that chronic usage, as opposed to infrequent consumption, can lead to mental illness.
This makes it critical that the GNWT comes up with a plan to cut into sales of black market drug dealers and gangsters with affordable marijuana and by outlining how much marijuana will cost, who is going to supply it to wholesaler, and how many communities will continue with prohibition.
There should also be commitment by the GNWT that tax revenue from sales goes into public health and education efforts that would include youth harm reduction.
Kim MacNearney, cannabis consultant and medical marijuana advocate with her organization Beyond 420, has been known in town for hosting 4/20 rallies for the past seven years.
She says she usually sees a strong youth presence, with about 1/3 of the rally attendees being teens or pre-teens, identified by rasta colours and pot leaf adornments.
‘Brain is still developing’
“I try to welcome them into an atmosphere of education and I don’t want to exclude anyone,” she said.
“Everyone needs to be part of the conversation, but at the same time, I try not to support that kind of heavy use in the school.
“Of course your brain is still developing and you need to ensure that it is functioning and growing on its own without alteration.”
MacNearney said through her work, substance abuse, including with cannabis, is usually related to traumatic experiences.
In the North, negative personal histories associated with residential school survivors may be one factor in why the rates are higher.
Cannabis is much more affordable for young people and more easily available, she said.
Rotermann says the way this particular survey is constructed, it is difficult to draw the conclusion that heavy cannabis consumption is due to trauma.
“Using that data we would not be able to make that connection,” she said.
“I think that there is lots of other data sources out there that contain a fuller breadth where you could start to develop that relationship, but not with this National Cannabis Survey.”