Under a new law passed by the Coalition Avenir Québec government, Québec residents will need to reach the age of 21 years and older to legally purchase cannabis. The law will take effect as of January 1, 2020, at which point Québec will have the highest legal age for cannabis use in the country. Currently in Canada, the legal age for cannabis is 19, except in Alberta, where the legal age for cannabis is 18 years.
The change will come just over a year after the legalization of cannabis, in October of 2017, when Québecois began being able to legally purchase cannabis at the age of 18, as they are with alcohol. Québec’s Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant tabled the new bill, stating that it is aimed to protect young, developing brains from risks associated with cannabis use. However, this move has been subject to criticism for its potential to increase demand for the black market, as well questions as to why there would be a discrepancy between legal age for cannabis use and that of alcohol.
According to Montreal lawyer and human rights activist Julius Grey, Québec’s new law is unconstitutional and will not hold up in court. “At one point, 21 was the age for voting; that’s been changed, and I think any attempt to return to it would be unconstitutional. At 18, or even younger, you can serve in the army, you can do all sorts of things. [The new law] is patronizing, and it’s age discrimination,” said Grey in his interview with Global News. “I don’t think it passes the Section 1 test (of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms), which says these rights are subject to such reasonable limitations as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society… If they file a constitutional challenge — and I very much suspect they will — they will win it,” he added.
Francois Limoges, a spokesperson for the Quebec Cannabis Industry Association (QCIA), also voiced concerns that raising the legal age to 21 could drive young consumers to access the black market after having been able to successfully purchase cannabis by legal means. Further, Limoges pointed out the inconsistency of increasing the legal age, since one of the main reasons for legalization of cannabis in Canada was to eliminate the black market and protect Canadians by providing regulated cannabis to ensure their safety.
“You’re pretty much telling the younger generation that you [want to] 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],” said Limoges.
Moreover, the bill received criticism from Québec’s health professionals, industry groups and even Justin Trudeau.