marijuana age limit

Marijuana age limit

Since 2014, it has been possible for adults to legally purchase recreational marijuana (cannabis) in several states in the US. Air travelers who plan to visit areas where such purchases are legal will be allowed to purchase recreational marijuana, even if they are not residents of those states, or even US citizens.

While there are a number laws and restrictions that must be observed in each state, many of the laws and restrictions can be boiled down to the following points:

  • Age limits for possession or purchase: Adults 21 and older can possess recreational marijuana in those states where this is legal. Vendors of recreational marijuana will require that the buyer provide proof of age, and the kinds of ID that are acceptable by the TSA would very likely provide acceptable proof of age.
  • Maximum possession and purchase amounts: In the US states and other areas where possession of recreational marijuana has been legalized, there are limits to how much an individual can purchase at one time, and the total amount that someone can possess. Typically, the maximum that someone can purchase at one time is one ounce (28.3 grams) or less of dried marijuana leaves suitable for smoking. There may be different limits for edibles and other types of marijuana products.
  • Limited retail locations: In states and locations that allow the purchase of recreational marijuana, this can typically happen only at authorized retail establishments. Depending on the location, the same location may be able to sell both medical and recreational marijuana. Individual communities may choose to ban the sale of recreational marijuana, so it is possible that some cities or towns may have no retail outlets for marijuana.
  • Resale by individuals not allowed: While you are free to give away recreational marijuana to other adults aged 21 and over, you may not resell marijuana products that you purchase. In states or other jurisdictions that allow the possession, but not the sale, of recreational marijuana, no sales of any kind are allowed.
  • Restrictions on where you can consume: It is typically illegal to consume marijuana openly and publicly. Also, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses open to the public may restrict or ban the consumption of marijuana.
  • Driving under the influence: It is illegal to drive while consuming marijuana. As is the case with driving under the influence of alcohol, a state allow you to drive with low levels of marijuana in your system.
  • Restrictions on federal property: It is illegal to possess, use, or transport marijuana in any form on property controlled by the federal government, including, but not limited to, military bases, post offices, national parks, national forests, or in privately owned or operated facilities which may be located on federal property.
  • Travel across state borders: If you are in a state that allows you to either possess or purchase marijuana, it is illegal to carry that marijuana outside of that state.
  • Limitations at airports: Marijuana in any form is not allowed in the secure areas of the airport (the areas beyond the TSA screening areas). That also means you can’t have marijuana with you on the plane, either in carry-on bags, checked luggage, or shipped as cargo. Even if possession of marijuana is allowed in a particular state, the airport authority or the relevant state or local government may limit possession and use of marijuana in any part of the airport.

Overview of basic laws concerning legal recreational marijuana.

Marijuana age limit should be low – not high


Assistant professor of community health sciences, University of Calgary

Disclosure statement

Rebecca Haines-Saah has received training awards and research funding support from organizations including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


University of Calgary provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation CA.

University of Calgary provides funding as a member of The Conversation CA-FR.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

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Lowering the legal age for marijuana use will help to improve prevention, safety and education for young people.

As the public debate on legalization of cannabis in Canada gains momentum, one of Bill C-45’s most contentious recommendations is to set the age of 18 as the floor for access. Because provinces have jurisdiction, we may see variations in the law when it is implemented across Canada.

I am one of a few vocal advocates for a harmonized policy with the age of access set at 18 years. I am a youth substance-use researcher with a PhD in behavioural health sciences and addiction studies. I have studied adolescent cannabis and tobacco use for more than a decade, and currently co-lead the TRACE program to understand teen cannabis culture. Based on this, I believe a lower age is better for two key reasons: It will help to divert youth from illicit markets, and it will prompt an earlier start for cannabis prevention and education.

Since legalization was announced, associations that represent medical professionals in Canada have argued for the age of access to be set at 21. The groups include the Canadian Psychiatric Society and the Canadian Medical Association.

Their stances stem from a 2015 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, which has been used to recommend an age floor of 24 or 25. This is based on emerging research of cannabis-use effects on brain structure and function in the developmental period that extends into the mid-twenties. The Canadian Pediatric Society declined to specify an age, but focused on harmonizing the legal access age with those for tobacco and alcohol.

Social cost is high

As I have previously argued, setting the age of access higher based on the evidence for potential brain harm neglects social costs of a criminal record for cannabis possession. For example, an arrest record limits one’s ability to travel outside Canada, be bonded for employment or volunteer in the community.

Young people do not respond well to scare tactics when it comes to cannabis or other drugs, and have easy access anywhere. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Without a “clean” criminal record, a person would be unable to participate in mundane but important activities: coaching a children’s soccer team or volunteering to chaperone their school field trips. Such a person certainly could not be a foster parent or adopt a child.

In the long, historical policy debate on cannabis legalization in Canada, we’ve been taught that cannabis use is illegal and bad. That poses a challenge now that we say continuing to criminalize cannabis use doesn’t make good policy sense.

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition offers a “public health approach” for legalizing drugs, which “recognizes that people use substances for anticipated beneficial effects and is attentive to the potential harms of the substances and the unintended effects of control policies… It seeks to ensure that harms associated with control interventions are not out of proportion to the benefit-to-harm ratios of the substances.”

Similarly, the Federal Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation report explains why greater restrictions on youth access aren’t necessarily protective policy choices: “Excessive restrictions could lead to the re-entrenchment of the illicit market.”

Youth behaviour varies

In short: Set the age too high and youth will continue to seek cannabis through existing, unregulated suppliers. The product will be of unknown quality and safety due to THC content (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis), additives such as pesticides, or mould contamination.

Illicit cannabis is easily accessible to youth at any time. Our research with B.C. teens who use cannabis supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s oft-quoted line about youth having easy access to cannabis, more than tobacco or alcohol.

In the TRACE project that began in British Columbia in 2006, we spoke to teens who were frequent cannabis users. It was the first study in Canada that aimed to explore the culture and context of teen use from their own perspective.

Contrary to a “stoner” stereotype, some used cannabis as a “gateway to nature” to enhance outdoor activities such as biking or skiing. Cannabis use was influenced by gender and used in different ways by boys and girls. Teens were also aware of the harms of co-use (smoking tobacco and cannabis together) and some engaged in what we called “relief-oriented” use to deal with or manage health problems.

Perhaps most importantly, our research highlighted the value of eliciting teen perspectives on the evidence about cannabis use, and applying findings to shape prevention efforts that might better resonate with youth.

Degrassi TV series a model for education

Much of my approach as a teen substance use researcher comes from my experience as an actress: I was one of the original cast of the popular Degrassi teen television series from about age 13 to 19.

CYCLES was a film produced from research on youth to educate young people about cannabis. (Rebecca Haines-Saah)

Key to the franchise’s success and 30-year longevity has been its edgy and honest way of addressing teen coming-of-age issues. No topic is off-limits, including suicide, abortion and drug use. The strategy is the antithesis of the 1980s “after-school special” network television narrative, in which adults save the day when a kid gets into serious trouble. Degrassi storylines take an honest and non-judgmental approach to teen experiences and dilemmas, in which youth first turn to peers to solve their own problems.

This is where we often go wrong in programming for young people: We don’t consult, include or listen to them in a meaningful way when developing programming for them, and wonder why our “adults know best” approach fails.

A youth-centered approach explicitly informed the CYCLES film that was developed from the TRACE research program.

CYCLES aimed to be a tool for teachers to have open and honest dialogue with students about cannabis use. It was a type of non-judgmental and “reality based” prevention tool teachers lacked.

The film does not harp on the potential for health or legal consequences of cannabis use. Instead, it focuses on how teens make decisions about cannabis in the context of peer and romantic relationships. We did this because our research showed scare tactics turned teenagers off and were unlikely to prevent or reduce use in their view.

Ultimately, the main character in CYCLES decides to move away from cannabis use when he sees the impact it has on his girlfriend, how his use may be influencing his younger sibling and could compromise a part-time job that he loves — not because an adult told him unequivocally to “just say no.”

Drug use a social ritual

Experimentation with psychoactive substances has been a coming of age ritual for North American adolescents for generations. Like sexuality, youth initiate these experiences because they mark “grown-up” status and entail pleasure, social connections and peer bonding. They also hold potential for physical and emotional harm.

Yet drug education is unlike current approaches to sex education in which we see the value of teaching youth active consent and decision-making to prevent harm from “risky,” coerced or unprotected sex.

In cannabis and other drug prevention, we cannot get beyond an abstinence-based mandate. We fear that teaching children and youth about reducing drug harm is the same as enabling drug use.

We won’t be able to legislate or educate away these behaviours, if history is any guide. Prevention and education for youth, how we talk to them and — most importantly — whether or not we listen to them matters more than what the law says about when they’re old enough to buy it.

When cannabis is no longer an illicit substance we will have the latitude to do more and better prevention. Legalization with a low age of access will create the context and impetus to prevent potential harms of cannabis use through a truly youth-centered approach.

Allowing young people to legally access marijuana will improve cannabis education and use-prevention, and hinder illegal activity.