After Cannabis, Quebec Lawmakers Considering Raising Drinking Age

After introducing a bill upping the age of majority for cannabis to 21 and banning public consumption, Quebec’s junior health minister suggests raising the drinking age as well.
After Cannabis, Quebec Lawmakers Considering Raising Drinking Age
Smeilov Sergey/ Shutterstock

Quebec’s center-right Coalition Avenir Québec party surged to its first ever majority government in this year’s provincial election. And one of CAQ’s first orders of business was to follow through on its campaign promise to increase the legal age minimum for buying, possessing and using cannabis in Quebec. Yesterday, the CAQ government introduced a bill to both raise the age of majority for cannabis to 21 and prohibit all public cannabis consumption. One of the bill’s major backers, CAQ junior health minister Lionel Carmant, told the media he would have liked to see the age limit raised to 25, following studies that suggest cannabis can damage brain neurons until a person is 25. And in an interview Thursday morning, Carmant added that Quebec should consider raising its legal drinking age, too.

Quebec’s New Health Minister Wants to Raise Age Minimums for Drinking and Cannabis

When Canada’s federal government in Ottawa passed the historic Cannabis Act on October 17, it adopted the minimum age recommended by the government’s cannabis task force: 18. But the law also gives provincial authorities the power to set their own age limits, so long as they don’t fall below 18. Most provinces adopted the federal task force’s recommendation, while a few ticked it up to 19 to match their age requirements for alcohol.

Quebec, where the drinking and tobacco age is 18, had adopted the same limit for retail cannabis. But the newly elected Coalition Avenir Québec government is citing concerns about the long-term impacts of young people’s cannabis use as reason to raise the age to 21. During an interview on CBC Montreal’s Daybreak Thursday, hosts pressed junior health minister Lionel Carmant on the proposed legislation, asking him why the bill only addressed cannabis and not alcohol.

Carmant replied that it was a matter of timing. Since cannabis has only been legal a short while, it would be easier to make changes now, he explained. But Carmant nevertheless stressed that he thinks raising the drinking age as well as the age for tobacco is “a debate we should have.”

Proposals to Raise Age Limits Reopen Debates About How Weed and Alcohol Affect Young Minds

CAQ Premier François Legault immediately shot down the suggestion that the party would attempt to raise the drinking or smoking age. But the proposal itself was enough to reopen debates about how cannabis, alcohol and tobacco impact the long-term health of young consumers. Carmant says that some in the medical community, including Quebec psychologists, believe the brain continues developing until the age of 25 and therefore, 18-year-olds are simply too young to use cannabis. But by this logic, 21-year-olds would still be susceptible to cannabis’ potentially harmful effects.

Contrary to Carmant, critics and opponents of the CAQ’s new legislation say that the science on how cannabis affects young minds is inconclusive. They also say that the bill’s banning of public consumption would strand most people without a legal and safe place to consume weed. In Montreal, for example, 60 percent of residents rent, and landlords can legally deny their tenants’ right to smoke at home. Other challenges to the bill argue that raising age minimums will chase young consumers back into the unregulated, unlicensed market.

Ottawa says it won’t get involved in an issue that each province must settle for itself. But opponents of the CAQ initiative say they’ll consider legal recourse if the new law passes. With no plan to change the rules for alcohol or tobacco, it will be difficult for CAQ to justify changing the rules for weed. But the provincial government’s goals are clear: delay cannabis consumption for as long as possible, and in the words of Carmant, “send a message that we’re not going to deal with cannabis the same way we’ve dealt with alcohol and tobacco.”

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