Quebec has finally passed and adopted its long-awaited cannabis law, which lays out the guidelines governing the production, sale, distribution, and consumption of cannabis products in the province. The announcement came after months of debates and revisions.
Premier Philippe Couillard’s roster of Liberals all voted for Bill 157. Liberals hold a majority in Canada’s National Assembly. Québec Solidaire, which holds three seats in the National Assembly, also voted in favour of the bill. Meanwhile, the opposition, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) voted against.
According to Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois, the province’s new cannabis guidelines are a response to the federal bill that legalizes recreational cannabis. She said that Quebec will be ready when the federal legislation will be in place.
The Trudeau government vowed to pass this recreational cannabis bill by the summer.
Charlebois, however, made is clear that the passage of these new cannabis guidelines does not mean that the province is promoting the use of marijuana.
Quebec’s cannabis laws and guidelines are considered to be among the most conservative in Canada. The provincial government has stressed that the objective of its legislation is to ensure public health and not to turn a profit.
What are the provisions of the new guidelines?
Sale and distribution
Under the new guidelines, Quebec’s liquor board, the SAQ, will be the government body in charge of overseeing the sale and distribution of cannabis. However, the sales will be carried out by the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), which is a new, separate entity.
Cannabis will be sold at SQDC-operated stores and will also be available online.
The province has plans to open about 20 cannabis stores by December, and around 150 to 160 stores within the next two to three years. Meanwhile, the online store is expected to be operational once recreational cannabis is made legal.
Consumers will be able to buy both fresh and dried cannabis, as well as cannabis oil. It will cost a little over C$6 per gram.
There won’t be cannabis-infused edibles available because they are not part of the initial legalization plan as set by the federal government.
Quebec residents cannot legally grow their own cannabis plants at home.
Cannabis products will be sold only to consumers 18 years old up.
Consumers will only be allowed to purchase up to 30 grams of cannabis at any one time, and only 150 grams of dried cannabis will be allowed inside each home.
The use of cannabis will only be allowed in the same areas as tobacco. Smoking won’t be permitted on university and CEGEP grounds.
The province will be imposing a zero-tolerance rule for drivers. This means that police officers can ask for a saliva sample from a driver if they suspect that he or she is driving while high. Police can also suspend a driver’s license for 90 days if the cannabis test comes back positive.
Quebec vs. other provinces
Quebec is among the only jurisdictions to prohibit growing cannabis plants at home. The others being Manitoba and Nunavut.
As for the sale of cannabis, Quebec’s will be stringently controlled by the SQDC, whereas other provinces, like Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia, have opened their door to privately operated cannabis stores.
The provincial government is planning to spend C$25 million every year over the next five years on prevention and research.
CAQ and PQ’s rejection of the bill
The CAQ vote against the legislation was expected because it had long advocated to set the legal age limit for customers at 21 years old.
PQ, on the other hand, had been expected to support the bill. However, PQ leader Jean-François Lisée has taken issue with several provisions of the bill before Tuesday’s vote.
Particularly, he said that the Couillard government should have gone further and banned the use of cannabis in public places — instead of just banning it in certain areas. He also pushed for more provisions to ensure that companies in Quebec are involved in cannabis production.
Lisée also expressed concern over the potential links between cannabis producers and tax havens.