On October 29th, lawmakers in Quebec passed new legislation to further regulate cannabis within the province. Pushed through the National Assembly by the ruling Coalition Avenir Quebec, it will effectively raise the minimum age for cannabis consumption from 18 to 21, as well as implement further restrictions on its use.
The move has drawn fierce criticism, with many arguing that it will only serve to push younger users to the black market.
Details Of The New Law
Bill 2, which will come into effect on January 1st of next year, raises the minimum consumption age to 21 throughout the entire province of Quebec.
It also goes further and bans the public consumption of cannabis, with municipalities being given the option of adopting bylaws to create special “smoking areas” where no children are present. In addition, possessing cannabis in or near post-secondary institutions will also be prohibited.
The consumption age was originally set at 18 by the previous Liberal government to parallel Quebec’s drinking age, as keeping cannabis consumption ages in line with the legal drinking age is a move that’s been adopted by most other provinces, as responsibility for regulation has generally been handed off to provincial liquor and gaming authorities.
While the minimum age hike will be implemented starting in the new year, the ban on public consumption took effect as soon as the bill was officially sanctioned on November 2nd.
Why Is Quebec Raising The Legal Age?
The minimum age hike was defended by the Coalition Avenir Quebec out of what they describe as a concern for the health of younger users. According to Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s junior health minister, “we really want to protect our teenagers, which are most vulnerable to cannabis”. Carmant also commented that “we want to send a clear message that we want to protect the most vulnerable people from the effects of these toxic products”.
Reactions To The New Law
While the provincial government claims that the new restrictions enjoy popular support within Quebec, reactions to the bill from both the opposition and the federal government has been decidedly negative. Many have commented on its paternalistic nature, which bans 18-21 year old adults from accessing legal cannabis. They’ve also commented on its general lack of effectiveness, as it essentially forces these younger users to rely on the black market.
It’s also drawn criticism from both the prime minister and the cannabis industry. The bill was initially proposed last December, leading to comments from Justin Trudeau that “it brings up questions, that this week an 18-year-old could go buy cannabis legally, but in a few months may have to go to the Hells Angels to buy it. Those are questions the government will have to answer to”.
According to a statement made by the Quebec Cannabis Industry Association, the new bill will “will steer the most vulnerable consumers towards the black market”.
There have also been comments that Bill 2 may in fact be unconstitutional. According to Montreal-based activist and lawyer Julius Grey, the new law flies in the face of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with Grey commenting that “I don’t think it passes the Section 1 test (of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms), which says these rights are subject to such reasonable limitations as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
How Cannabis Is Handled In Quebec
Even before the passage of Bill 2, Quebec already had some of the most restrictive cannabis regulations in the country. In Canada, cannabis is legal at the federal level, however each province has been given control over a number of key aspects. These include details like the legal age of consumption, possession limits in public, and various laws surrounding distribution and sale.
In Quebec, private retail has effectively been been banned, with the government maintaining a monopoly on the sale of pot within its borders. Consumers wishing to purchase legal cannabis can only do so through the SQDC (Société québécoise du cannabis), a subsidiary of the province’s SAQ liquor corporation.
Quebec is also uniquely restrictive in its laws related to growing for personal use, as they are the only province (with the exception of Manitoba) that opted to ban home growing following legalization last October.
The ban was struck down by the Quebec Superior Court in September of this year, with Justice Manon Lavoie ruling that sections of the provincial law were unconstitutional. However, the provincial government under Premier François Legault is committed to appealing the ruling, reflecting his party’s hostile attitude towards cannabis.
Quebec’s Reaction To Legalization 2.0
In addition to these regulations, Quebec’s laws surrounding the sale of edibles and infused-products has been far more restrictive than any other province in the country.
Earlier this summer, the government proposed a number of additional regulations on top of those mandated by Health Canada. This includes a 30 percent THC cap on all products and a ban on topicals. It also goes much further in its restrictions on products appealing to children, outright banning edibles such as chocolates and desserts.
The restrictions put in place by Health Canada are already strict compared to those in legal US states like Washington and Colorado, and many fear that these additional moves by Quebec may severely hamper the industry and fuel illicit sales.
Impact On The Black Market
One of the major disappointments with Canada’s legalization experiment has been the persistence of the black market.
While many believed that legalization would effectively do away with underground sales, the last year has proven otherwise. Thanks to supply issues, price discrepancies and excessive regulations, the market for illicit cannabis is still alive and well in many parts of Canada – and Quebec is no exception. About 82 percent of all the pot consumed in the province came from illegal sources.
This latest move by Quebec isn’t doing the legal industry any favors. By effectively shutting out an entire segment of the province’s adult population, the government may very well be handing the black market customers on a silver platter.