Quebec's cannabis industry is hopeful the province's government might eventually reconsider Bill 2, a law passed Tuesday that will raise the minimum age to buy or possess cannabis in Quebec from 18 to 21 beginning in the new year.
Lionel Carmant, the Quebec junior health minister behind the law, said in a Tuesday radio interview with Montreal radio host Patrick Lagacé that the law is scheduled for review in the future and could be changed.
"We continue to pursue monitoring, with vigilance, cannabis, as much in terms of public safety as public health," said Carmant in French.
"And in due course, if there are other adjustments to make, we will make them."
"I mean, we wouldn't assume that all the young people that were legal (to buy cannabis) for the last year were always purchasing legally... I think it's more accurately characterized as a missed opportunity." – Jenna Valleriani, Cannabis Health and Education CEO
That's welcome news to Michel Timperio, president of the Quebec Cannabis Industry Association, which represents the government-regulated cannabis industry in the province and opposed Bill 2.
"I think in a year from now things will have evolved, and maybe we'll be in a better place because we'll see what happened to other provinces where the legal age is not 21," Timperio said.Advertisement
"And from that, bring forward some information that could maybe have this government think otherwise, after going through the experience of the first year of their new law."
Timperio believes the age increase for legal cannabis access in Quebec "defeats the purpose of legalization, fully." He expects cannabis-using Quebecers between the ages of 18 to 21 will simply get older people to buy legal cannabis on their behalf, or buy cannabis from the illicit market.
That mirrors comments from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year. After the Quebec government tabled the bill in December, Trudeau told reporters that "an 18-year-old this week could buy cannabis legally, but in a few months maybe he'll just have to buy it from Hells Angels."
The age of majority for cannabis is currently 19 in most other provinces and territories, and 18 in Alberta. Federal law sets the minimum age for cannabis possession at 18, but provinces are allowed to increase it, noted a spokesperson for Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair, the federal cabinet minister responsible for administering the Cannabis Act.
"At the federal level our approach is based on protecting youth from known health risks of cannabis use and working to keep those under the age of majority from accessing it," wrote spokesperson Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux in a statement.
"We also took into consideration the task force on cannabis legalization's acknowledgement that setting the age too high would risk preserving the illegal market."
Jenna Valleriani was involved in youth submissions to that federal task force, and now serves as CEO of the not-for-profit cannabis policy group National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education. She thinks the age of majority for cannabis should be aligned with the age for alcohol, but isn't convinced that raising the age in Quebec will directly push young cannabis users to the illicit market.
"They were likely accessing from the unregulated market before," said Valleriani.
"I mean, we wouldn't assume that all the young people that were legal (to buy cannabis) for the last year were always purchasing legally... I think it's more accurately characterized as a missed opportunity."
Data from Statistics Canada's latest cannabis use survey shows that plenty of Canadians bought cannabis from an illicit source in the first six months of this year. Forty-eight per cent of cannabis users bought at least some cannabis from a legal source in the first half of 2019, Statistics Canada found, and 42 per cent bought at least some from an illegal source. Twenty-nine per cent of cannabis users bought exclusively from legal sources, the national data agency reported.
Valleriani said Quebec's decision to raise the age for cannabis access "isn't really evidence-informed policy."
"It's not really like a year later we're looking at data on youth (cannabis) use and something catastrophic has happened," she said.
"In fact what we see, even though it's really preliminary, is that youth use has kind of stabilized to pre-legalization numbers."
With files from Maggie Macintosh, Dylan Robertson and the Canadian Press