According to Parti Québécois (PQ) justice critic Véronique Hivon, Québec was excluded from all discussions, yet will have to bear the burden of the impact the legislation will have on public health and security, alongside other ensuing social issues. She told journalists on Thursday that “it’s time that Québec was allowed to make all its own decisions.”
The PQ’s concerns were echoed on a federal level by Bloc Québecois (BQ) leader Martine Ouellet, who said at a press conference on the same day that “once again the federal government keeps the biggest slice of the cake to itself and has swept the most complex and costly questions to Québec.”
The bill leaves several key decisions to the provinces and territories, including setting a legal age limit (in accordance with the federal minimum of 18), licensing cannabis distribution and sale, establishing provincial zoning rules for businesses, restricting where cannabis can be consumed, and amending traffic safety laws to ensure the right checks are in place.
Whether or not the provincial government chooses to play a role in distribution in Québec has not yet been decided. In a statement released on Friday, the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) employees’ union advocated for a “state-run operation whose social and financial objectives are defined by the government” to distribute recreational cannabis. The union paid for a study published in December which stated that the industry would spawn more profits and employ more people if distribution was entrusted to the SAQ and not put into private hands.
The same study estimated that Québec’s pot market could generate $3.2 billion per year within 10 years.
Meanwhile Québec’s public health department has recommended that alcohol and pot should not be sold alongside each other, echoing the recommendations of last year’s federal task force on cannabis legalization and regulation.
BQ’s Ouellet also said that Ontario’s established medical marijuana producers, including Tweed Marijuana, founded by ex-CFO of the Liberal Party Chuck Rifici, stand to gain immensely from the move. While Ontario is home to over half of Canada’s 43 licenced and authorised marijuana companies, Québec currently has only one, Gatineau-based Hydropothecary Corp.
While the plan promises extra resources to Health Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Department of Public Safety, it does not pledge any extra money to the provinces. Québec junior health minister Lucie Charlebois said that it was “laughable” that the bill does not earmark financing for the provinces. According to her, the provincial government is disappointed in the “vague” legislation, which doesn’t mention recommended THC thresholds and marijuana by-products.
Despite objections to the way it has been rolled out, all parties have stated their support for legalisation in general. According to the BQ, Québec stands to gain ten million dollars a year from the legal cannabis trade.
Cannabis activist Marc-Boris St-Maurice, founder of the Montreal Compassion Centre, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that BQ and PQ have only just “woken up and realised there’s political capital to be gained” over the cannabis issue. Trudeau’s successful federal campaign demonstrated that it has gone from “political suicide to political bonanza,” he explained.
St-Maurice believes that the approach outlined last week is “far too restrictive.” He takes particular issue to the government’s intention to prevent those with existing criminal records—including records for cannabis use—from participating in the new industry. According to him, the government has “lost sight of the people who are most concerned, the people who use marijuana.”
He added that he expects Québec to take a conservative line on the decisions it is entrusted with, based on the reticence the provincial government, courts and college of physicians have historically displayed towards the medical marijuana industry.
In the current plan, adults will be able to grow up to four cannabis plants at home, although provinces can adjust this recommendation as they see fit. Martin Messier, president of the Association des Propriétaires du Québec, a lobby group representing the province’s landlords, said that this particular ruling is “extremely worrying,” and that overall the plan is a danger to the rental housing market and renters’ lives. The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs have also opposed this element of the legislation, arguing that home growing is difficult to police.
– Cecilia Keating
Featured image by Luciano.