Why Quebec’s decision to raise age of cannabis use is right

Last week Quebec proposed to raise the legal age of cannabis consumption to 21 in an attempt to safeguard developing teenage brains with a new law which will come into effect in January 2020.

It comes just days after Canada’s second wave of cannabis legalisation, which permits the use and sale of cannabis edibles and concentrates among other products.

The seemingly stricter pot laws in Quebec compared to the rest of the country haven’t dissuaded citizens from lighting up, with legal cannabis being a hit with people in the province since being legalised in 2018 which is reflected in the fruitful profits the industry produced. Within the first five months of legalisation the Government Cannabis Store Network (SQDC) had sold $71 million worth of cannabis to Quebec citizens.

Despite the law not coming into effect until January, a change of rules included in the new law will take effect this week, these include the prohibition of cannabis consumption on public roads, in bus shelters, under ‘big-top tents’ and in playgrounds.

The decision to alter the legal age has hit a nerve with numerous Canadian citizens, who have been longing for more relaxed cannabis laws.

But the issue of health is far more important than the potential revenue it may bring in. Cannabis use has strong links to mental health issues, especially in younger people who may have undiagnosed mental health illnesses or individuals predisposed to them.

Age limit

A government spokesperson said 65% of Québécois agreed with the new age limit, although some have said that it will revitalise the illegal cannabis market in the region.

The province has underperformed in regards to setting up legal bricks-and-mortar cannabis stores, with only 22 currently in operation – something which increases the likelihood of the black market prevailing regardless of the age limit.

The Quebec Cannabis Industry Association (QCIA) has shown signs of resisting the new law, citing the potential push of 18-21 year olds back to the black market as a serious concern.

The QCIA president Michel Temperio said in a statement: “The government’s motives are surprising in this approach. Note that public health officials and safety experts who advised the federal government over the implementation of cannabis legalisation in the country, as well as many Quebec organisations specialising in cannabis, have advocated for a harm reduction approach by recommending that the minimum age be set at 18- years-old.”

The Canadian Prime Minister - Justin Trudeau - has also been critical of the new plan to raise the legal age limit, suggesting that the decision will leave an opening for organised crime to flourish, which undermines one of the federal law’s main aims which was to eliminate the black market.

The Canadian Press learnt that two anonymous public health organisations are currently planning to suggest a compromise to the ban when the hearings take place in Quebec City, with rumours of a plan to give gradual access to cannabis for those aged between 18 to 20 to be recommended.

Mental health risks

Although raising the legal age to buy cannabis may sway some to hold off from using it, there is the huge downside of pushing those between 18-21 back to street dealers, where the product is mostly of unknown origin and may be filled with toxins which are much more detrimental to developing brains and the overall health of the user.

The Leaf Desk has previously covered the topic of mental health and its link with cannabis. Research reports have stated that cannabis use is inexplicably connected to a range of mental health illnesses despite there being a lack of education regarding the matter.

Medical reports have stated that if someone with underlying mental health illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar smokes cannabis, it is far more likely for it to come to the surface when it may have perhaps never come to the surface if not for smoking.

THC in high amounts can have serious negative effects on those who are susceptible to mental health issues, and much of the cannabis sold legally and illegally sits under this umbrella.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists reported that the impact of cannabis on young people can turn into an extremely harmful risk as they are still developing physically and mentally. The college stated that “using cannabis triggers mental health problems in people who seemed to be well before, or it can worsen any mental health problems you already have.”

Quebec’s unique law

When compared to the rest of Canada, Quebec has a unique set of laws in reference to cannabis. Citizens are not allowed to grow it in their own home and the province has one of the lowest amounts allowed for home storage of processed cannabis within Canada, along with it being illegal to sell weed edibles despite the new law in the country allowing for the sale of cannabis consumables.

The province has recently been delaying the process of allowing edibles to be legally sold in line with the rest of the country, where some states allow for THC and CBD laced edibles, drinks, vapes and creams amongst other goods to be legally sold in shops.

The previous Liberal Government had allowed for the public use of cannabis in places where tobacco was also allowed to be consumed however the new government, the Coalition Avenir Quebec has other plans for making the weed laws much stricter with the ban.

Recently, a court ruling decided that the prohibition of the cultivation of cannabis in the home was invalid and that the legislation was unconstitutional because banning the practice could amount to criminal legislation as it trespasses on the federal rights given to Canadian people.

The Quebec government, however, strongly disagreed with the ruling and is currently in the process of appealing against it as they see the issue as a public health matter, with the province’s junior health minister, Lionel Carmant suggesting that allowing home grown cannabis would “normalise” the use of pot.

Carmant also pointed out that building owners were adamant about not wanting their tenants to be engaging in cannabis cultivation because of the potential damage to their properties it would cause as a result.