The Quebec Bar is calling on the province’s new government to rethink two key changes it is proposing in Bill 2 — An act to tighten the regulation of cannabis.
“The restrictions proposed in Bill 2 risk simply being ignored by people who want to smoke cannabis if they don’t have the legitimate and legal opportunity to do so,” says Quebec Bar president Paul-Matthieu Grondin.
He adds that raising the legal age to 21 flies in the face of current legislation that sets the legal age for the purchase and use of alcohol and tobacco products at 18.
“From a legal standpoint, there very well might be a constitutional challenge,” says Grondin.
The bar’s public stand comes one day after the government’s standing committee on health and social services began public hearings on Bill 2 at the National Assembly in Quebec City.
Bill 2 aims to modify Quebec’s first cannabis law — Bill 157 — which was passed by the previous Liberal government in June, laying out the guidelines for the sale and distribution of cannabis in the province.
Bill 2 was introduced in December, two months after the Coalition Avenir Quebec's landslide victory in the Oct. 1 provincial election.
During the campaign, the CAQ promised that it would raise the legal age for buying and consuming cannabis in the province to 21. It also promised to prohibit cannabis consumption in all public places, including parks and streets.
The new government’s junior health minister, Montreal neurologist Lionel Carmant, argued that the proposed changes would help protect the still-developing brains of young adults from the nefarious impacts of cannabis use.
But the proposed changes have been met with widespread criticism in municipal, social, health and legal circles.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, for example, said recently that the CAQ’s plan to raise the legal age to 21 “is saying to youth, ‘Go and get your stuff from organized crime.’”
She also noted that because 60 per cent of Montreal residents are renters, the CAQ’s proposal to ban the use of cannabis outdoors — on top of the existing law’s provision that allows landlords to forbid tenants from smoking when drafting leases — creates a Catch-22 situation.
“The message [renters] are getting is that cannabis is legal, but you can’t consume it at home or in public spaces,” Plante said.
According to Grondin, the Quebec Bar’s position on Bill 2 follows an analysis of its provisions by various legal committees of the Quebec Bar.
In regards to an increase in the legal age to 21 — with accompanying fines of $100 for infractions — the bar argues that it would only fuel pot sales by organized crime.
“The Bar supported fixing the legal age at 18 for the consumption of cannabis,” reads the Bar’s document. “That is, after all, the fixed age of civil majority in Quebec.”
The document also argues that raising the age to 21 “is susceptible to being contested before the courts on the grounds of age discrimination” in both the Canadian and Quebec charters.
“It will come back to government then to demonstrate that the age of 21 is justified in a free and democratic society, by proving the existence of a rational connection between that rule and the legislative objective of the measure, which must be shown to minimally restrain the rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter and that there is proportionality between the beneficial effects of the rule for society in general and the prejudicial effect on guaranteed rights.”
The bar document also questions both the logic and practicality of prohibiting the smoking of cannabis in any public setting in Quebec, as proposed in Bill 2.
“Adopting severe rules that will simply be ignored could affect the entire law restricting cannabis use and risks undermining its objective ‘to prevent and reduce the bad effects of cannabis in an effort to protect the health and security of the population, especially young people.’
“We fear that the proposed modifications will not have the desired effects and won’t permit a reduction in the use of cannabis by vulnerable people, including youth.”
A spokesperson for Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel declined to comment on the bar's public announcement on Bill 2, which is being championed by Carmant.
"The bill is a work in progress," says Nicky Cayer. "It will be studied and there will be consultations."