Cannabis in Quebec: Why raise the legal age limit?

(Kayleigh Valentine / The McGill Policy Association)

(Kayleigh Valentine / The McGill Policy Association)

In October 2018, Canada became the first G7 country to make marijuana legal for recreational use. The decision, which was part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election platform, has boasted a number of benefits such as economic gains and reduced incarceration rates. However, amendments are still being proposed to the new legislation with the suggested raise of the minimum consumption age of cannabis in Quebec.

The Coalition Avenir Québec, led by François Legault, has vowed to increase the consumption age from 18 to 21 years old. With Legault promising to table a bill on the matter within a year of legalization, the potential legislation will set Quebec apart for the rest of Canada if put into place. Despite being a controversial move reinforcing Quebec’s anti-federalist image, provinces have the power to raise the minimum consumption age if needed. Additionally, the move may not be entirely unwanted. A survey by the Angus Reid Institute found that only 27 per cent of Canadians thought that the minimum age of 18 was appropriate. With Legault’s focus on controlling the sale and consumption of cannabis over profiting from it, stricter regulation could help meet the party’s goals while resulting in other economic and social consequences.

(The Angus Reid Institute)

(The Angus Reid Institute)

Restricting the 18 to 21 age group may have severe impacts on the legal cannabis market since Quebecers aged 18 to 24 are reportedly the biggest consumers of the product. Additionally, critiques of raising the age limit stem from the fact that at 18 Quebec residents can legally purchase alcohol and cigarettes and be tried as adults. Hence, restricting cannabis access seems counter-intuitive. The popularity of cannabis amongst youth could also counteract Legault’s attempts to control sales. With the proposed legislation, a now neglected market could turn to illegal methods to purchase cannabis, which is precisely what legalization tries to curb. While Quebec tries to limit access to cannabis, other provinces have not contested the younger legal age.

Moreover, cannabis has shown huge economic promise as a whole. Cannabis stocks have increased by 30 per cent since Aug. 1 for the U.S. and Canada, and reached a capitalization of US$51 billion on Sept. 12. Further economic and social benefits of legalization are exemplified in the huge international success of Canada-based cannabis companies. Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis were valued at $8 billion and $5 billion respectively in 2017, leading the way for Canadian companies to immensely profit off the new legislation. Estimates for cannabis expenditure in the fourth quarter of 2018 reached over $816 million, and the immense potential of the value of cannabis is not expected to slow down; the global cannabis market’s net worth could be $194 billion in seven years’ time if legalization was more widespread.

The economic gains as a byproduct of cannabis legalization could also have positive ripple effects that spread from local businesses to the entire economy of an region. Legalization has given a chance for communities to profit off a burgeoning business opportunity, providing jobs in a promising new sector and assisting communities that are left behind economically. More wealth isn’t the only positive change spurred by legalization: Thanks to increased access for the general population to get cannabis and widespread legal suppliers, cannabis-related charges are reaching new lows.

When taking a look at the nationwide economic benefits, it seems more sensible to keep the minimum consumption age in Quebec at 18. An alternative to Legault’s proposal? Upping the age to 19 instead and following in the footsteps of all the other provinces (excluding Alberta). Control can still be maintained without excluding one of the greatest consumer groups of cannabis.


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