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Opposition calls raising Quebec cannabis age to 21 ‘paternalistic’

A security guard stands in front of a new Societe Quebecoise du Cannabis (SQDC) store before a media preview Tuesday, October 16, 2018 in Montreal. The legal sale of cannabis begins in Canada on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. .
A security guard stands in front of a new Societe Quebecoise du Cannabis (SQDC) store before a media preview Tuesday, October 16, 2018 in Montreal. The legal sale of cannabis begins in Canada on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Quebec will have the toughest age restrictions on cannabis in the country starting next year, but many are warning the tougher measures won’t have the desired effect the provincial government is trying to achieve.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government used its majority in the legislature to raise the age limit to consume cannabis from 18 to 21, passing a bill at the national assembly on Tuesday to bring about the strictest rules in the country.

The federal law sets the minimum age at 18 but leaves it open to 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.

The new legislation passed by Quebec also forbids public consumption of marijuana beginning this weekend.

Lionel Carmant, the province’s junior health minister, said the change is about protecting youth and sending a message that consuming cannabis is not a trivial matter.

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Quebec cannabis commission meets
Quebec cannabis commission meets

But the tightening of age restrictions has plenty of detractors – opposition members of the legislature voted against the bill as shortsighted, while public health and industry representatives said they were disappointed the provincial government forged ahead despite their concerns.

Critics have long held that the age restrictions will only drive younger users to the black market.

“It starts from a good intention, but it’s really a bad policy,” said Jean-Sebastien Fallu, a researcher specializing on drug abuse and addiction at the Universite de Montreal. “Protecting youth is a good thing but this bill won’t protect youth, it’ll in fact increase many health and social risks for youth because they are going to access cannabis anyway – they always have, they always will.”

Fallu called the move a populist measure that perhaps some citizens are behind, but he believes they are misinformed by the government itself.

He noted that at 18, one is legally considered an adult and can make decisions on other potentially risky behaviours such as buying a home, getting married or – in some provinces, at least – buying alcohol.

Quebec cannabis hearings: Bar Association raises concerns
Quebec cannabis hearings: Bar Association raises concerns

The Quebec Cannabis Industry Association, which represents more than 25 of the province’s licensed growers, said the move goes against the goals of legalization: improving public safety and getting rid of the black market.

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A spokesman for the association said while it’s sympathetic to the government’s stated desire to mitigate the risk to younger brains, pretending those consumers won’t use at all is far-fetched.

“It’s totally against the stated goals of the Quebec and federal government, which was to control access to the substance,” Francois Limoges said.

Limoges said the association plans to continue lobbying the government on the matter.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a co-spokesperson for the opposition party Quebec solidaire, accused the government of creating two categories of adult – those 21 and older and those from 18 to 20.

“It’s a paternalistic approach towards young people in Quebec,” Nadeau-Dubois said.

Cannabis activist hopes to change Quebec marijuana laws
Cannabis activist hopes to change Quebec marijuana laws

“(Carmant) talks about protecting children, he talks about protecting adolescents, but he seems to forget that Quebecers aged 18 years old, 19 years old and 20 years old are adults in Quebec and Canada.”

Recreational marijuana use became legal across Canada on Oct. 17, 2018, but Quebec adopted tougher provincial measures a few months earlier.

The province is one of two jurisdictions where home cultivation is forbidden, along with Manitoba.

Quebec announced earlier this month it would appeal a court decision that invalidated that provision after a judge ruled it infringed upon the jurisdiction of the federal government

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Federal law allows Canadian citizens to grow up to four cannabis plants at home, but Quebec chose in June 2018 to legislate against home cultivation entirely.