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Boston University School of Law




This Essay considers whether commercial cannabis retailers are adequately constrained in the sale of cannabis to 18- to 21-year-olds. It examines the intersection of the medical cannabis market, recreational cannabis market, and underlying status law regulating late adolescents aged 18 to 21. Because the age of majority licenses full medical decision-making, an 18-year-old can access medical cannabis but not recreational cannabis or alcohol. This Essay proceeds on the assumption that medical cannabis is a construct that has eased the process of achieving a legalized commercial cannabis market. The ambiguity around medical claims is comfortable in the libertarian soil of cannabis discourse, but it invites us to give special attention to 18-year-olds. This Essay argues that the right of an 18-year-old to access commercial cannabis using the medical construct is better understood as a right of the cannabis industry to access the 18-year-old market. People who do not use nicotine, alcohol, or cannabis before the age of 21 are much less likely to use and misuse later. Postponement becomes prevention. Therefore, when those access ages are raised, the industries are losing more than just three additional years of marketing; they are losing access to the creation of lifelong, high-volume users. The underage users are important to the business model because future misusers and abusers buy more reliably. Regulators should monitor the profit motive of the legal cannabis industry as it relates to late adolescents. The age of majority, which is the only explanation for 18-year-old access to medical cannabis, is too weak to justify what is actually self-medication in the colloquial sense. Similarly, the medical status of cannabis is too unclear to justify the risks that self medication poses to developing brains. As medical users melt into recreational users, and as medical use receives only the weakest of guidance from physicians due to its unique hybrid character, we should acknowledge that 21 may be the appropriate age of access for both.



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