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Quebec Battles Federal Law and Facts En Route to Legalization

As Quebec moves—seemingly unwillingly—toward legalization, the details of its legal cannabis framework are still unresolved, which means provincial debate rages on.

Contrary to the federal law allowing up to four plants, Quebec will allow no homegrown cannabis at all.

The year began with the province’s landlords’ association, the Corporation of real estate owners of Quebec (CORPIQ), telling a provincial parliament hearing on Cannabis that they want the right to change leases in order to ban the smoking of cannabis in apartments they own. Noting that many leases had clauses against smoking tobacco, CORPIQ’s Hans Brouillette explained they were simply looking to extend that logic to cannabis smoke.

Brouillette added that because the province’s landlord-tenant laws were strict, tenants have the right to refuse modifications to leases they’ve already signed, and both sides can bring the debate for judgment before the provincial rental board, the Régie de Logement.

However, critics pointed out that unlike tobacco, cannabis is smoked in comparatively small quantities, producing a much smaller volume of smoke overall. Others noted that forcing tenants to fight landlords in court for the right to smoke cannabis at home was a cost of its own.

The case of Ronald Chartier suggests a dark future for landlord-tenant disagreements over cannabis smoke.

Though the Régie de Logement is generally considered to be a fair arbiter of cases, the Journal de Montréal reported on the case of Ronald Chartier, a disabled man on the Gaspé peninsula whom the Régie evicted for smoking legally prescribed medical cannabis indoors for chronic pain connected with arthritis and surgeries to his organs. Régie du Logement Administrative Judge Serge Adam cited a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada finding that smoking cannabis indoors was not a protected right, but rather a lifestyle preference, and the even if Chartier had the legal right to smoke cannabis, he did not have the right to do so in a manner that disturbed his neighbours.

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Certainly no sensible person wishes to force their neighbours to endure the smell of cannabis if they don’t like it—Chartier’s landlord, who lives upstairs, said he found the smell “nauseating.” However the willingness of the Régie to evict a tenant rather than brokering some means of balance that would allow Chartier the ability to use medical cannabis to ease his suffering without losing his home suggests a dark future for landlord-tenant disagreements over cannabis smoke.

Haggling Over Home-Grow

The CORPIQ has also been demanding a hard line against growing cannabis at home, and they were thrilled when Quebec announced that, contrary to the federal law allowing up to four plants, the province would allow no homegrown cannabis at all.

As Brouillette lamented to the parliament hearing on cannabis, the problem is Health Canada’s continued issuing of  permits allowing medical cannabis consumers to grow their own, which has led to confusion. Subsequently, CORPIQ called on Health Canada to stop issuing growing permits, because, they argued, cannabis being legal for sale would preclude any need to grow it at home.

The Federal Justice Minister said that while provinces could roll out legalization in their own way, “there are limits” to how much they can restrict home-growing.

While the federal government has remained open to differing provincial approaches to legalization, Quebec’s ban on home growing crossed a line. Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that while provinces could roll out legalization in their own way, “there are limits” to how much they can restrict home-growing.

However, provincial Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois has been defending the ban on growing cannabis since last fall, notably during an appearance last November on popular talk show Tout le Monde en Parle (which ends with all the week’s guests enjoying a glass of wine—in this case, a 2014 Umberto Cesari red).

“We’re not trying to make a fear campaign, we want to inform people,” Charlebois told Tout le Monde en Parle. “[T]hey’re already starting to integrate fentanyl into pot.” (Fact check: There’s no evidence of fentanyl-laced cannabis ever being found anywhere in Canada, and the idea that fentanyl has been “integrated” with cannabis in some irreversible way—presumably infecting even forthcoming commercial supply—is unsupported by any evidence.)

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Charlebois claims that in her travels and consultations, the message she’s received most strongly from the Quebec public is that people want the government to control cannabis very strictly.

“I’ll explain why. I live in the country,” she said. “I don’t grow cannabis, but if my neighbour does and my grandchildren—I have eight— come over on the weekend, and the oldest, who’s six, goes over to the neighbours’ side, and inadvertently gets into it and consumes a bit [of cannabis], maybe eating it[…] It’s not good to have near a house where there are children.”

The image of children accidentally eating cannabis plants provoked a great deal of hilarity across the province, and Vice pointed out that 0.6% of emergency room visits for children under ten in Colorado post-legalization had been connected with cannabis.

Using equally untested logic, she went on to explain that she believed four plants was simply too much for anyone.

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“I learned during the consultation,” she said, “I don’t know if you know this, but four good pot plants, with two people at home, that will get two people stoned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And you know what? There’ll be some left over.”

Quebec's government maintains that home growing would lead to permanently stoned households where children stumble into mouthfuls of pot.

With that, the government entrenched itself in the position that home growing would lead to permanently stoned households selling their runoff on the side, and children stumbling into mouthfuls of pot.

Bowing to pressure from police departments, who claim the limit of four plants is “unenforceable,” Health Minister Gaetan Barrette said in September, “A law must be applicable at a given time. So to have [a plant], to not have [a plant], to have two, to have four, how would it be controlled?”

Barrette, a doctor and former member of the conservative political party Coalition Avenir Québec, has rejected any attempt to compare the controlled harm of legalized alcohol to legal cannabis.

“There’s no doubt in the literature that pot, among youths, can induce a deterioration of mental state all the way to causing psychoses [in people biologically predisposed],” Barrette told ICI Radio-Canada last June. “With cannabis, often we make a parallel in terms of commercialization and access, with alcohol,” But I will tell you something very clear: nobody has ever [experienced] psychosis on alcohol.” (Another non-factual statement; alcohol-related psychosis is well-documented.)

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Since then, provincial Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier has contended that while the federal government can make it illegal to grow more than four plants, it can’t force a province to make it legal to grow fewer than that. Whether or not that would be constitutionally defensible is uncertain.

Quebec has reached tentative deals with six growers to supply the province Sociéte with a minimum of 62,000 kilograms of cannabis for its first year of operation.

That leaves the growing to commercial enterprises, and in mid-February, Quebec announced it had reached tentative deals with six growers to supply the Sociéte Québecoise du Cannabis with a minimum of 62,000 kilograms of cannabis for its first year of operation. The only Quebec company, Gatineau’s Hydropothecary, would supply the largest amount—20,000 kilograms—while Canopy Growth, Aphira, MedReleaf, Aurora Cannabis, and Tilray, all based outside Quebec, will fill in the rest. Canopy has bought a 700,000 square-foot greenhouse 30 minutes outside Montreal, while Aurora has set-up a 40,000 square-foot indoor greenhouse in Montreal suburb Pointe Claire.

62,000 kilograms means the government is allowing for an equivalent of 7.6 grams per resident, though various estimations predict the demand may be significantly greater.

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The likelihood that the province will increase that allotment remains up for question, particularly as the centre-right Liberal government approaches an election year with their more conservative opponents the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) polling in a position to form a majority government. The CAQ has complained that Liberal party’s plan will create “as many provincial cannabis outlets in the province as we have Saint-Hubert restaurants.” CAQ Simon Jolin-Barrette, MLA for the riding of Borduas, has called the federal proposal was “far too permissive,” and the party has countered the Liberal’s strict cannabis law Bill 157 by saying they would institute a ban on cannabis use in any and all public places. The CAQ was also the first to call for a total ban on home cultivation. As they aim to win polling numbers back from the CAQ, the Liberals seem very unlikely to risk appearing even remotely positive about legalization.

Bill 157 remains unresolved: it is, at the moment, being considered by the National Assembly. For that, Pierre Philippe Couillard greeted with relief the news that the Senate had pushed the date of legalization from July 1 until late summer. This extra time, he said, would give them time to prepare law enforcement for the change, as well as sorting out issues “surrounding traffic regulations”

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Additionally, it will buy them time to pass Bill 175 into law before the province’s MNA’s go home for the summer.

“It would be unfortunate to leave the Assembly [for the summer on June 15] without adopting it,” he told the CBC, “because then we open the doors to literal anarchy and to products coming in from all over Canada without us being able to control what is happening.”

Jesse B. Staniforth's Bio Image
Jesse B. Staniforth

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

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