Cannabis Legalization in Québec: What Should We Expect?
After 130 hours of deliberation, the National Assembly has finished its discussion of Bill 157, which provides the framework for nonmedical cannabis legalization in Québec. Here are some of the key decisions that will affect how Quebecers experience cannabis legalization:
The sole retailer of recreational cannabis in Québec will be the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC), a subsidiary of the well-known Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), Québec’s government-operated alcohol retailer.
The SQDC plans to pilot 20 initial locations across the province, with others following thereafter. However, each municipality has the jurisdiction to refuse the opening of cannabis retail locations. For example, while Montréal has already announced the location of its first four stores, the municipality of Laval has opted not to host any SQDC locations. Other municipalities, such as Saint-Jérôme, are still conducting surveys of their population and will decide their position based on their findings.
In an effort to quickly become competitive with the illicit market, despite the time involved in creating the infrastructure of physical storefronts, the SQDC has also announced it will engage in mail-order sales. Mathieu Gaudreault, spokesperson of the SAQ, estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 packages will be delivered every week. Age-checking regulations will be tight: after an initial warning for failure to verify the client’s age, the delivery agency will receive a fine of $5,000 for a second, $20,000 for a third, and $40,000 for a fourth infraction.
In-store purchase will also be strictly-regulated, much more so than for alcohol. In line with the province’s and the country’s mission to take a public health approach to cannabis legalization, retail locations in Québec will be structured to not encourage use, and prioritize education in their storefronts. Employees will receive training to be able to provide information about safe use, but not sales-oriented advice. Products, which will include cannabis flower and oils, will not be accessible to clients, but will instead be on display behind the counters. Guests will be asked to provide photo I.D. upon entrance to ensure they are 18 or over, the legal age to purchase and consume alcohol and, now, cannabis. Clients can expect to shell out around $6 per gram of dried bud.
Regulations surrounding spaces for consumption of cannabis will be the same as for tobacco (i.e., smoking allowed in open, but not closed, public spaces, and smokers must consume at a minimum of 9 metres from public buildings), except for college and university campuses, where consumption will be prohibited. Municipalities will be free to tighten these restrictions to prohibit public consumption altogether.
The province will establish an Income Fund dedicated to managing the profits made from both the sale of, and the excise tax applied on, cannabis. In the budget that the Québec government released, the revenue generated from recreational cannabis sales is expected to amount to $55 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, all of which will be redistributed between prevention and research efforts, and the ministries of 1) public security, 2) municipal affairs and regions and land occupancy, and 3) transports, durable mobility and electrification of transports.
Home cultivation of cannabis will not be permitted in Québec. After extensive debate between the provincial and federal governments, the Senate accepted an amendment on May 28th to allow provinces to prohibit home cultivation, which means there will be no legal grounds for a court challenge of the provincial law based on the federal law.