The legal age to buy marijuana in Quebec will be 18, in order to prevent young people from buying their pot on the black market, government sources have confirmed to Radio-Canada.

The provincial Liberal government outlined their plan for the age limit and the distribution after a series of discussions among the caucus members.

According to Radio-Canada, the sale of cannabis will ultimately be controlled by Quebec's liquor board, the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ). The number of branches that would sell it remains to be determined.

Quebec's public health minister, Lucie Charlebois, will introduce a bill on cannabis legalization soon, the sources say, but Charlebois declined to comment Friday.

Protecting youth priority, Coiteux says

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux told reporters Friday that protecting youth in the province is the priority.

Martin Coiteux 20170919

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said Friday that the protection of young people is a government priority. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"We need to keep young people away from the black market," said Coiteux.

He added that it's no longer about how legislators feel about legalization of marijuana, but how they plan to manage it.

"It's not our decision, it's the decision of the federal government. It's not necessarily the decision we would have made, but now it's our responsibility to build the framework," he said.

Coiteux did not confirm that the legal age limit would be set at 18.

Ontario to set legal age for pot at 19

In April, legislation was introduced in the House of Commons to legalize and regulate the sale and distribution of marijuana on or before July 1, 2018.

The federal government has left it up to the provinces and territories to set the minimum age.

Earlier this month, Ontario announced it would set its legal consumption age at 19 — the same as the provincial drinking age. 

The federal government's cannabis task force recommended the legal age for buying marijuana be set at 18.

During the deliberation, some members of the federal Liberal caucus advocated for the age to be set somewhere between 19 and 21.

The sources said the part of the reasoning behind the decision was that setting the age at 21 would lead to a police crackdown on younger users.

Critics 'uncomfortable' with decision

Simon Jolin-Barrette, justice critic for the opposition Coalition Avenir Québec, said his party is disappointed with the decision.

He criticized Premier Couillard for not listening to members of his own party, saying that it would be better to start an awareness campaign among young people about the effects of the drug instead of allowing them to use it.

"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," he said.
Simon Jolin-Barrette

CAQ justice critic Simon Jolin-Barrette said his party is 'extremely uncomfortable' with setting 18 as the legal age for pot consumption, because of research showing its effect on the still-developing brains of young adults. (Bernard Gagnon/CBC)

In an editorial published in May, the Canadian Medical Association Journal made that same point.

Referring to current evidence that suggests the human brain continues to mature until about the age of 25, Dr. Diane Kelsall recommended that the minimum age of purchase and consumption be set at 21.

"From my perspective, from my colleagues' perspective, this legislation is being pushed through," Kelsall said at the time. "We're just very worried that we're conducting a national experiment, and unfortunately, the guinea pigs are kids."

At a news conference Friday, Montreal Police Chief Philippe Pichet said he didn't believe legalizing marijuana would eliminate the black market or make a dent in the business of organized crime.

With files from Radio-Canada's Davide Gentile