New age limit for Quebec cannabis won't stop use, say some 20-year-olds

In 2019, you had to be 18 to buy legal cannabis in Quebec. But as of Jan. 1, you need to be at least 21 — leaving some young adults under 21 frustrated about having their access taken away.

Criminologist fears denying young adults access to pot until they're 21 will push them back to black market

Georgia Campbell-Irwin, right, and Victoria Mongiovi said they are disappointed they can no longer buy cannabis at SQDC outlets. (Laura Marchand/CBC)

In 2019, you had to be 18 to buy legal cannabis in Quebec. But as of Jan. 1, you need to be at least 21 — leaving some young adults under 21 frustrated about having their access taken away.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government followed through on an election promise to raise the legal age for cannabis, setting the highest minimum legal consumption age in the country.

Any adult under the age of 21 who could legally buy cannabis in 2019 could now face a fine of up to $100 for possession.

"I had heard a little bit about it in the past, but I didn't think it was really happening, said Georgia Campbell-Irwin, a 20-year-old Concordia University student who lives in Mile End. 

"I didn't see any kind of advertisements [warning people] or anything like that," she told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Vic Mongiovi, a 20-year-old from Parc-Extension, said she was driving when she heard the news on the radio.

"I was sort of just like, 'That sucks!'" she said. "I thought about everyone who obviously doesn't listen to the radio. I don't think many 20-year-olds are in their car listening to the radio."

Mongiovi said she worries for her friends, wondering how many of them don't know the law has changed.

'Can't have confidence' in black market

Lionel Carmant, a pediatric neurologist and Quebec's junior health minister, declined to be interviewed on the subject. His media attaché told CBC he had nothing new to say about the change in regulations.

Carmant previously said the government wants to protect those who "are most vulnerable to cannabis."

Lionel Carmant, Quebec's junior health minister, has defended the change in the legal minimum age for consuming cannabis, saying it's about protecting the health of younger adults. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

But Campbell-Irwin said getting young people to stop smoking cannabis "[is not] realistic for a lot of people my age, frankly."

"Alcohol is still legal for people under 20, from age 18," Mongiovi pointed out. "I'm sure that the effects of alcohol on a developing brain are similar to those of cannabis, if not worse." 

Mongiovi said she planned on stockpiling legal cannabis before the legal age changed on Jan. 1, but ultimately, she said, she's not too concerned about the new rules.

"If I wasn't really that worried when it was completely illegal, I don't see how I can really be super intensely worried when it's semi-legal, almost legal," she said.

She said she did enjoy shopping at the SQDC, however, and will miss the experience.

"It was very clean. I didn't have to get into anyone's car. I didn't have to speak to someone that I thought maybe didn't have my best interest at heart."

The CAQ government has raised the legal minimum age of cannabis consumption to age 21, which means adults between the ages of 18 and 21 can no longer buy products at SQDC outlets. (Radio-Canada)

Campbell-Irwin said she appreciated knowing exactly what was in the cannabis she bought and in what quantity, so she knew what to expect.

"[Buying from a dealer] there's no certainty about any of it. I don't know how to test for levels of THC and CBD. So it's just believing what the person who gave it to you says," she said. "You can't really have a lot of confidence in that."

Both women said they will probably continue to use cannabis illegally in the months until they turn 21, despite the changes.

That's exactly what Serge Brochu, a professor emeritus of criminology at the Université de Montréal, worries about.

He said the higher legal age isn't going to keep young adults from trying drugs — but it will push them into the black market, where low-dosage drugs can be harder to find.

"They will also have access to other more addictive drugs, like cocaine or other opiates," he said. "These people will be exposed to higher risk because they will be exposed to the black market."

With files from CBC Daybreak


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