TORONTO — After a year of being able to purchase cannabis legally from age 18, Quebecers will now have to wait until they turn 21. The provincial government has passed a bill changing the legal age to use marijuana, a move critics say will only drive the black market.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec government adopted Bill 2, which raises the legal age for cannabis consumption from 18 to 21 as of Jan. 1, 2020. It will become the highest legal age for cannabis use in the country.
The legal cannabis use age is currently 19 across most provinces, with the exception of Alberta and Quebec. The legal age in Alberta is 18, the same as the drinking age there.
Quebec’s Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant, who tabled the bill, has said that it was created to protect young, developing brains from the risks associated with cannabis use.
But critics say that raising the legal age will only increase the risk of young consumers purchasing cannabis illegally.
Francois Limoges, a spokesperson for the Quebec Cannabis Industry Association (QCIA), said the main issue with raising the legal age to 21 is that it will only push young consumers — who were previously able to purchase cannabis legally — into the arms of the black market.
“We are as an industry totally disappointed by the government’s decision,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
QCIA represents cannabis companies within Quebec that are regulated and provide legal marijuana. They released a statement criticizing the Quebec government’s choice only moments after the bill passed.
Limoges pointed out that one of the main drivers behind the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis in 2018 was a desire to crack down on the black market and protect Canadians by ensuring that cannabis available to them was regulated and safe.
Quebec’s new decision to raise the age limit seems to go against that very goal, he said.
“You’re pretty much telling the younger generation that you wanna protect, well, ‘go back to your dealers’ — or ‘find a dealer’ — because they’ve been buying legal cannabis for the last 12 months and as we know, when you’re a younger adult you’re not going to wait (to turn 21),” Limoges said. With this move, it will “be hard to bring them into the legal market,” once they have reached the new legal age, he added.
Quebec’s association of public health has also criticized the bill, with spokesperson Marianne Dessureault saying it lacks a scientific basis.
In an interview earlier this year she worried that “we are going ahead and maybe transforming a law that sought to protect public health, towards a law that has more of a political flavor.”
She described the bill as having a “populist appeal,” which “doesn’t have (a) place in public health policy.”
Quebec happens to have one of the lowest legal ages for alcohol consumption in the country — most provinces and territories have set 19 as the age that consumers can legally purchase alcohol, but in Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta, it is 18.
When it comes to alcohol, the “social consensus in the province,” is that 18 year olds are adults who can make their own choices, Limoges said, but he believes there is a “stigma” around cannabis that ensures it is viewed differently than alcohol.
He seemed to echo Dessurealth’s concerns, saying that despite research showing that cannabis is not significantly more dangerous than alcohol, there is a “social conservatism from the government … (which) appears to be stuck in the old ways of thinking.”
Quebec’s cannabis laws are some of the strictest in Canada. While Ottawa legalized THC and CBD products including edibles, beverages, vapes and topical forms of cannabis on Oct. 17, exactly one year after Canada legalized recreational marijuana use, Quebec has delayed the process.
The province’s cannabis dispensary, the SQDC, said earlier this month that it expects the second wave of legalization to be gradual starting in mid-December with products that “should be mainly beverages,” including teas, carbonated water and non-alcoholic beers.
Quebec has also appealed a court decision made on Oct. 10 invalidating parts of the province’s cannabis law that prohibited home cultivation. Federal law allows Canadian citizens to grow up to four plants at home, but provinces can adjust their own cannabis regulations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticized Quebec’s plan to raise the age limit to 21, saying it could leave an opening for organized crime.