Quebec takes hard line on cannabis with bill raising legal age to 21

QUEBEC — The Quebec government tabled legislation Wednesday that would impose the strictest cannabis controls in the country, raising the legal age to 21 and outlawing consumption in public.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government campaigned on the promise to increase the age, and it followed through with a bill that would also see consumption prohibited in all public places, including parks and streets.

Lionel Carmant, the junior health minister, said he is worried about the effects of cannabis on the still-developing brains of young adults.

He told a news conference that studies have shown cannabis can cause damage to brain neurons until age 25, and he personally would have preferred setting the limit at 25.

The goal is to “delay the first consumption as much as possible,” Carmant told a news conference at a Quebec City high school. He said he rejects the “fatalistic argument” that the higher age limit will push teenagers and young adults to illegal sources like criminal organizations.

But that is exactly what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned of Wednesday.

Trudeau lamented that “an 18-year-old this week could buy cannabis legally, but in a few months maybe he’ll just have to buy it from Hells Angels.”

He told reporters in Ottawa, “These are questions the (Quebec) government will have to answer, but they will make their decisions as they are entitled to do.”

Carmant, a neurologist, said the province will invest $25 million in awareness campaigns beginning at a young age to warn about the effects of cannabis.

“I am convinced that the measures we are proposing today will have the effect of stopping many young people,” he said. He hopes to have the law adopted by March.

The federal law legalizing cannabis consumption sets the minimum age at 18 but gives provinces the power to increase it. In all other provinces and territories, the legal age is 18 or 19.

The federal government said it would not get involved should there be a legal challenge to the proposed Quebec law.

“No, we don’t have any intention to intervene in any legal proceedings,” said federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor. “It’s entirely the responsibility of the province of Quebec to choose the age of consumption.”

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