Under CAQ, legal age to consume cannabis in Quebec will be 21 — eventually

Ian Lafrenière, a newly elected CAQ MNA and former spokesperson for the Montreal police, said it will be tough to fulfil a promise to increase the minimum age from 18 to 21 before marijuana becomes legal in two weeks, but it will happen eventually.

Newly elected CAQ MNA Ian Lafrenière says Legault government will try to minimize transition time to new law

CAQ MNA Ian Lafrenière, left, and François Legault campaigned on a promise to increase the legal age to 21, which would be the highest anywhere in Canada. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

With pot's legalization exactly two weeks away, a key member of the new Legault government is acknowledging the legal age to consume cannabis in Quebec will remain 18, for now.

The Coalition Avenir Québec campaigned on a promise to increase the legal age to 21, which would be the highest minimum age in Canada.

Ian Lafrenière, a newly elected CAQ MNA and former spokesperson for the Montreal police, said it will be tough to fulfil that promise in time for Oct. 17, the day cannabis becomes legal across Canada.

But his party fully intends to keep that pledge, he said, and it will try as much as possible to limit the transition period.

"The reason we announced that before the date [is] we want to be crystal clear. We don't want it to be a surprise for people," he said on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, who served as the CAQ's justice critic and was re-elected Monday, said the government will make the change as soon as possible, although he didn't provide a clear timeline. 

Bill Blair says the federal government won't interfere if Quebec decides to go through with the increase to the age limit.

The minister responsible for border security and organized crime reduction says Ottawa will leave it to the provinces to decide their own age limits.

Brain studies cited

The CAQ was critical of the plan to set the legal age at 18 from the start, citing various medical groups whose research has concluded cannabis use can harm brain development in those under 25.

Lafrenière said studies his party has consulted suggest teenagers start smoking pot at 16, but the CAQ was not prepared to set the mininum legal age that low.

When it was suggested that setting the legal age at 21 would create an exclusive market for pot dealers, made up of 18-to 20-year-olds, Lafrenière said dealers will be just as happy if the legal age remains 18.

Jean-Sébastien Fallu, an associate professor of psycho-education at Université de Montréal, said he believes raising the age is a well-intentioned but bad idea.

He said there is no scientific consensus on what is the safe age to start using cannabis. The answer, he said, is when someone is mature enough to do so.

If 18 is old enough to vote or drink, it should be old enough to make a decision to consume cannabis, he said.

Raising the age to 21 would create an inconsistency and criminalize something 18- to 20-year-olds would have been doing legally up until the change is made, he said.

CAQ wants to ban smoking in public

Right now, the law bans smoking in the same locations as those set out by tobacco laws, as well as on the grounds of:

  • Universities and CEGEPs.
  • Hospital and social services institutions.
  • Elementary schools and daycares.

The CAQ wants to change the provincial cannabis law, enacted in June, to ban smoking the drug in all public places.

Several towns and cities have already announced such a ban, including, most recently, Quebec City.

The City of Hampstead banned smoking on municipal property, while Montreal's Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough banned smoking in parks in May and the Saint-Laurent borough has started the process to prevent cannabis from being used in public places in time for Oct. 17.

Both those boroughs are controlled by members of Ensemble Montréal, the official opposition at city hall. The opposition says the Plante administration is dragging its heels on the subject and should follow Ensemble Montréal's lead.

A spokesperson for the administration says the city's plans on how the drug is to be regulated will be unveiled next week.

The CAQ wants to ban cannabis in all public places, which would confine users to their homes. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Lafrenière explained that the provincial law won't trump a municipal bylaw, and so if Montreal doesn't want to implement the same ban, it doesn't have to.

The CAQ, he said, is trying to create a framework within which the municipalities can work.

"Not even as an ex-police officer, but as a parent, it's always easier to make the rule extremely strict and loosen up later on."

Dr. Judith Archambault, who speaks for the Montérégie public health department, said 42 per cent of Quebec consumers of cannabis are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Raising the legal age to 21 means anyone under that age won't have access to the legal market, so they will resort to the black market.

The director of public health in the Quebec City region issued a news release last week, saying the current provincial law goes far enough, and that it is "unnecessary" for municipalities implement rules that further ban where cannabis can be smoked.

It says, among other things, that forcing pot smokers indoors will make the effects of secondhand smoke worse, and that it creates social equity issues because young people are more likely to be renters and therefore subject to rules that would ban them from smoking at home.

Landlords in Quebec have taken steps to ensure smoking pot will be banned in rental properties.

With files from CBC Montreal's Radio Noon and The Canadian Press