On Wednesday, December 5th, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which currently sits as a majority government in Quebec, tabled An Act to Tighten the Regulation of Cannabis. This Bill’s key amendments aim to restrict who can access cannabis, and where it can be purchased and consumed, positioning it as the catalyst of a major shift in the context of legalized nonmedical cannabis in Quebec. So, what might this new cannabis context look like?
By far the most talked-about potential policy shift is the increase in the legal age of purchase, possession and consumption of cannabis from 18 to 21 years. This would make Quebec only the second province to create a discrepancy between its legal age for alcohol and cannabis, after Manitoba, which has selected 18 and 19 years, respectively.
Despite outcries from public health experts across the province and even the country, Premier François Legault insisted he wanted to send a clear message to youth: “Please, don’t use pot. It’s not good. It’s dangerous.” As only people of legal age are allowed to enter retail locations, it is unclear whether employees of the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), the provincial cannabis retailer, will be able to keep their jobs if they are under the age of 21.
However, despite the attention this particular amendment has drawn, there are other key changes. Previously, educational institutions (excluding colleges and universities) were required to be at least 250 meters away from cannabis retail outlets. Bill 2 now includes colleges and universities in this restriction. This means that one of the SQDC’s retail locations in Quebec City, which is currently established across the street from the CÉGEP Sainte-Foy, would be required to move. Additionally, the plans for a fourth retail location in Montreal, next to the Université du Québec à Montréal, have been halted until further notice.
Also meant as a measure to keep university students from accessing cannabis is the prohibition of possession (previously, the limitation extended only to consumption) of cannabis on college or university premises, except for residences.
Finally, an additional proposed change is the blanket prohibition of public consumption of cannabis. As the provincial law currently stands, cities and municipalities have been tasked with creating their own regulations around public consumption. Although several of these jurisdictions had already opted to ban public consumption, there has been pushback from major cities such as Gatineau and Montreal, which have lamented the disregard for the in-depth, evidence-based and consultative process they underwent to make the decision to allow public consumption. Valérie Plante, the Mayor of Montreal, also alluded to a lack of respect for the autonomy of cities and their decision-making process.
These changes create a whole new cannabis context for Quebeckers - one where university students may be prohibited from participating in the legal market, or at least experience challenges in enjoying cannabis legally. For young people, who generally do not own the spaces they occupy, the new Bill offers few alternatives to consume cannabis legally. While the CAQ – as well as a considerable portion of Quebeckers – posits that this will keep people, especially youth, from using, others argue it is a recipe to push consumers back into the illicit market. As we wait, all eyes are on La Belle Province.