The reasons behind Quebec's surprising pessimism toward legalizing pot

One would think the province known for its joie de vivre and laissez-faire attitudes would have the most lenient stance toward the legalization of pot. But a recent CROP survey done for Radio-Canada shows the opposite is true.

New survey shows Quebecers fear cannabis bill and its effects more than Anglo Canada

A woman smokes a large marijuana joint at the Vancouver Art Gallery on 4/20 day, April 20, when pot activists promote the use of marijuana. Attitudes toward the legalization of cannabis are more relaxed in English-speaking provinces. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

One would think the province known for its joie de vivre and laissez-faire attitudes would have the most lenient stance toward the legalization of pot. But a recent survey shows the opposite is true.

Quebecers are far less optimistic about the legalization of marijuana than their counterparts in the rest of Canada, a CROP poll conducted on behalf of CBC's French-language network, Radio-Canada, shows.

For nearly every promised benefit of legalization, from the reduction of the black market to less stress on the justice system, people in Quebec were more skeptical than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

The results even surprised CROP president Alain Giguère, a veteran pollster.

"My hypothesis was the opposite. I thought Quebec would be more tolerant," Giguère said.

Only 40 per cent of Quebecers said they were in strongly or somewhat in favour of legalization, compared to 58 per cent of other Canadians.

The survey interviewed 2,536 adult Canadians, 1,017 in Quebec and the rest in other provinces.

More Quebecers also said that the Liberal plan to legalize cannabis worsened their perception of Justin Trudeau's government.

To understand this negative perception, CROP also asked the same people about their attitudes towards their health. It found that those who were most against legalization are also highly concerned with their well-being.

"They eat healthy, exercise regularly and have a holistic lifestyle that takes care of body and mind," he said.

But those in favour of legalization don't tend to be too stressed about their health. They think they're fine, he said.

So Giguère went back to a social values survey CROP does every year. And it showed that Quebecers tend to be more mindful of health than people in the rest of Canada.

Montrealers toke up during 4/20 celebrations on April 20 at Mount Royal Park. Those in favour of legalization in the province are a minority. (CBC)

"We assume Quebec is focused on pleasure and joie de vivre — that they would be tolerant about cannabis," he said. 

"Well, it's the opposite. Quebecers think that if they want to have fun, they have to be healthy."

Another reason for the split is that English Canadians are more tuned in to news from the U.S., where marijuana has been legal for several years in some states.

"Francophones in Quebec are less exposed to this news. So there's a trivialization of the issue in English Canada," said Giguère.

Fears of negative effects

For Quebecers and non-Quebecers alike, the biggest fear about legalization is the possible increase in road accidents.

But Quebecers are more worried about the banalization of pot's danger to society, effects on mental health and addiction than the people in the anglosphere.

When it came to the potential positive effects of legalization, Quebecers simply didn't see any: Asked about quality control, more government revenue, less stress on the justice system, reduction in organized crime — Quebecers took a dim view to all of them.

More non-Quebecers said they had smoked marijuana (for either medical or recreational purposes) in the last year, compared to Quebecers. Fewer Quebecers also reported being informed of the federal bill to legalize it.

To Giguère, it comes down to the same root cause: concern for health makes one less likely to try it.

But the province's recent string of corruption scandals involving high-ranking politicians also fuels the cynicism, especially when it comes to the effects on organized crime, he said.

"They probably think, 'Oh, nothing's going to change. Our society will always be corrupt.'"

Where it can be sold

There was some disagreement from the poll's respondents on what kind of business should sell pot.

More Quebecers said current state-owned retailers, such as the SAQ, should be the designated sellers. In the rest of the country, pharmacies were the favoured points of sale.

Fewer Quebecers were okay with pot being sold in their neighbourhoods: 31 per cent compared to 39 per cent of respondents elsewhere in the country.

The spread was even bigger when it came to products derived from cannabis, such as edibles: 27 percent in Quebec are in favour of seeing them sold, versus 40 per cent in the rest of Canada.

But all Canadians seemed to agree on a few questions.

For instance, they believe legalization wouldn't have much effect on whether parents let their kids experiment with pot.

Also, Canadians of all stripes agreed that receipts from marijuana taxes should be used to finance the health system, pay off the national debt and fund addiction programs.

With files from Radio-Canada