Quebec raising legal age for cannabis to 21, the strictest in the country

Quebec raising legal age for cannabis to 21, the strictest in the country

Nearly half of Quebecers have already tried cannabis

Quebecers under the age of 21 won’t be able to buy or possess recreational cannabis as of Wednesday, ushering in the toughest age restrictions in the country since pot was legalized 14 months ago.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government passed legislation in the fall that upped the legal age for accessing cannabis from 18, citing the impact of cannabis on young minds in deciding to act.

But policy experts suggest restricting legal access to the drug for the segment of the population most likely to use the drug will not have the intended effect.

Daniel Weinstock, director of the institute for health and social policy at McGill University, said it’s clear where the Quebec government is coming from, citing research that shows a risk factor for developing brains.

“The problem is the amount of cannabis that’s already present in the illegal market. We have to think long and hard about our ability to effectively enforce prohibition,” Weinstock said. “And if we can’t — and I strongly suspect we won’t be able to — … we risk finding ourselves in the worst of all possible situations.”

That situation would see 18 to 21 year olds — armed with no information about the potency of what they’re consuming — buying from illegal dealers and using contaminated, unregulated product.

A Universite de Montreal addictions researcher said perhaps a small minority of youth — those already deemed not at risk — might put off using cannabis because of the measure.

But Jean-Sebastien Fallu notes that when it was illegal, nearly half of Quebecers had tried cannabis once in their lifetime by 17.

“You have 50 per cent who’d used once in their lifetime, despite the threat of criminalized prohibition,” Fallu said. “So I don’t think this (new rule) is going to have any significant impact on underage, minor or adolescent use.”

Weinstock said policy makers should understand a ban isn’t always the right choice, even if most parties agree the goal should be to moderate young people’s consumption.

“We really have to think about the second-best (option) — to give them access to a safe product,” he said.

The province’s junior health minister, Lionel Carmant, declined a request for an interview through his spokesperson. Carmant has said previously the stricter age rules were adopted with the idea of protecting the developing minds of young adults from cannabis.

But Fallu said he’s also concerned youth will be consuming illegal cannabis with no quality-control standards for levels of THC — the drug’s main psychoactive component.

The Quebec Cannabis Industry Association, which represents more than 25 of the province’s licensed growers, has raised concerns that the stricter rules go against the reasoning behind the federal government’s move toward legalization — improving public safety and getting rid of the black market.

While the federal law sets the minimum age at 18, it leaves it to the provinces and territories to establish their own rules. The legal age for consumption is 19 in every other province except Alberta, where it’s 18.

Given the legal age for drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco in Quebec remain at 18, the Quebec Bar Association has warned there could be constitutional challenges around the issue of age discrimination.

One constitutional lawyer called the law a “form of paternalism that is entirely unjustifiable in our society.”

“I think it’s absurd and I think it’s contrary to the charter, I think it’s discrimination as to age,” said Julius Grey. ”It seems to me that it’s perfectly absurd to say that alcohol — which kills many more people than cannabis — is safe at 18, but cannabis is only at 21.”

Grey said it’s a strange situation whereby adulthood comes at 18, where one can be considered fully responsible for one’s acts, yet can’t access a legal product.

“Differential ages are not reasonable — you have to have an age of majority,” Grey said. “Once you become a full adult and you have the full responsibility for what you do, you should have free choice.”

Recreational marijuana use became legal across Canada on Oct. 17, 2018, but Quebec quickly adopted tougher provincial measures.

The province is one of two jurisdictions where home cultivation is forbidden, along with Manitoba. The province has announced it will appeal a provincial court decision that invalidated that provision after a judge ruled it infringed upon the jurisdiction of the federal government.

When Quebec passed its age restriction this year, it also banned public consumption of cannabis. It has also introduced the toughest restrictions for edibles, which are being phased into the market elsewhere in the country, by targeting anything that might appeal to children.

Weinstock said the approach may change, given legal cannabis remains relatively new.

“My hope is that as time goes by, the drug becomes normalized, we’ll be able to go to a series of evidence-based policies, rather than ones that are driven by fear and panic,” Weinstock said.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre will reopen Feb. 1 after a nearly 10-month closure to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre gears up for safe reopening in Victoria

Recreation facility opens Feb. 1 with reservation system to prevent crowding

Coun. Jack McClintock said he would have voted for a proposed statutory holiday recognizing residential school survivors if he had had all of the information. (Black Press Media File)
North Saanich split over statutory holiday recognizing residential school survivors

Legislation would recognize Sept. 30 as National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

(Black Press Media file photo)
Break and enter suspect caught in the act by Saanich police, charged for seven other similar crimes

40-year-old accused of breaking into bank, restaurant, six liquor stores since October 2020

The Sooke School District raised more than $18,000 for the Goldstream and Sooke food banks from the funds of 10,000 Tonight in December 2020. The funds go two- to 2.5-times further due to the buying power of the food banks. (Black Press Media file photo)
SD62 high school students raise more than $18,000 for food banks

Edward Milne in Sooke rakes in $11,000 alone

(Black Press Media file photo)
Bylaw officers called to Saanich park for COVID-19 protocol violations on pickleball court

Raquet sport players reminded to avoid doubles play amid pandemic

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Dog owners, from left, Marlyn Briggs with Nayla, Marjory Sutherland with Effie and Mick, and Christina Godbolt with Conon walk their pets frequently at the Chemainus Ball Park but are growing increasingly concerned about drugs being found discarded in the area. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Puppy rushed to emergency 3 times after ingesting drugs in Chemainus public spaces

Dog owners walking in Chemainus parks urged to take caution

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Most Read