If you want to buy pot in Quebec, you will need to be at least 18-years of age. According to sources in the Canadian government, the new legal age requirement is an effort to stop teenagers from buying weed on the illegal black market. After a series of long discussions among caucus members, the provincial Liberal government outlined its plan for distribution and the age limit.
According to Radio-Canada, the Société des alcools du Québec, or SAQ, Quebec’s liquor board, will ultimately control all legal cannabis sales. The government has yet to determine a limit for the number of stores it would allow to operate. Lucie Charlebois, Quebec’s public health minister, will introduce a legalization bill soon, the sources claim, but on Friday, Charlebois herself declined to comment.
However, Public Security Minister, Martin Coiteux, had no qualms about chatting with reporters on Friday. He made it clear that the priority is to protect the youth of the province. Coiteux said, “We need to keep young people away from the black market,” and added that how legislators feel about legalization is no longer relevant. All that matters now are their plans to manage it.
“It is not our decision,” Coiteux said. “It is the decision of the federal government. It is not necessarily the decision we would have made, but now it is our responsibility to build the framework.” Coiteux made no confirmation that the legal age limit would be 18-years, but since Ontario has plans to make 19-years their legal age limit, it seems a trifle revolutionary.
Back in April, legislation entered the House of Commons for the legalization and regulation of sales and distribution of cannabis by July 1, 2018. However, federal authorities gave territories and provinces the authority to make their own laws governing the minimum age. Ontario announced earlier this month that it would set the age for legal consumption at 19-years, which mirrors the provincial drinking age.
The federal government’s marijuana task force set the legal age recommendation for buying pot at 18-years, but during Quebec’s deliberation last week, some members of the Liberal caucus advocated for an older legal consumption age, somewhere between 19-years and 21-years of age. Part of the reason for setting the age limit at 18-years instead of 21-years is to prevent police crackdown on young users.
The decision makes critics uncomfortable, however. Justice critic for the opposition Coalition Avenir Québec in particular, Simon Jolin-Barrette, voiced his concern, calling the decision a disappointment for his party. He sent criticism to Premier Couillard for ignoring members of his own party, claiming it would be more effective to create youth awareness programs.
Jolin-Barrette believes in teaching the youth about the effects of pot instead of permitting them to use it. He reiterated, “We are extremely uncomfortable with the premier’s decision to make the age 18 because marijuana affects the development of the brain. It has consequences for young people up to the age of 25.”
Back in May, an editorial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal highlighted that exact same point. Dr. Diane Kelsall, in reference to current evidence indicating continued maturation of the human brain until approximately the age of 25, recommended that the minimum legal age for consumption be set at 21-years.
At the time, Kelsall said, “From my perspective, from my colleagues’ perspective, this legislation is being pushed through. We are just very worried that we are conducting a national experiment, and unfortunately, the guinea pigs are kids.” That is a worrying sentiment, especially if the legislation fails to uphold its original intention to keep children away from the underground market.
Montreal Police Chief, Philippe Pichet, said at a news conference on Friday that he did not believe legalizing cannabis would destroy the illegal black market or even slow the business of organized crime. Setting the legal age for consumption at 18-years old is unlikely to make a dent in illegal operations either. Time will tell if it sets a precedent for other legal provinces in Canada.