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Quebec raising age of cannabis consumption to 21 in the new year

Published on November 6, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Last week, Quebec’s CAQ government passed a new law, which raised the age for cannabis consumption from 18 (tied with Alberta for the lowest in the country) to 21 (the highest).

Prior to Bill 2 becoming law, a variety of experts attacked the proposal of preventing adults from accessing cannabis until they’re 21.

Criticism came not least from Quebec’s National Institute for Public Health, whose experts warned the raised age would increase “judicialization” of younger adults who represent “the most important group of cannabis consumers,” while simultaneously exposing them to “cannabis from clandestine sources without quality control” as well as “resellers who could offer them other potentially riskier substances.”

For Montreal civil rights lawyer Julius Grey, however, the real flaw in the law is that “it’s flagrantly unconstitutional […] and it’s age discrimination.”

Grey pointed to Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which stresses any limitation to the rights in the charter must be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”—an argument he believes is hard to make about the age increase.

Grey argues the problem is that the Quebec law imposes fines on those under 21 possessing cannabis, while under federal law, minors between the ages of 12 and 18 may possess up to five grams of dry cannabis without facing fines.

This federal-precedence argument follows on the logic of the September decision by Justice Manon Lavoie of Quebec’s Superior Court, which threw out Quebec’s ban on home growing because it made criminal at the provincial level something permitted under federal cannabis law.

The same way Quebec’s choice to outright ban home growing put the province at odds with Ottawa, a ban on young adults consuming cannabis may do the same—or it may not.

Ottawa only set the minimum age for cannabis consumption at 18, leaving it up to the provinces to raise their age above that, and all but Alberta have raised their age limits to 19.

Quebec’s new law does not come into effect until Jan. 1, 2020.

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Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse Staniforth reports on cannabis, food safety, and Indigenous issues. He is the former editor of WeedWeek Canada.
View Jesse B. Staniforth's articles
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