Cannabis legislation: zero tolerance for THC while driving, growing at home
Published Thursday, November 16, 2017 11:26AM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 17, 2017 3:24PM EST
Forget about growing your own cannabis at home in Quebec, or driving a car for hours after smoking a spliff.
When cannabis becomes legal in Canada later in 2018, the only place tokers will be allowed to acquire marijuana will be the SQC -- the Societé Quebecoise du Cannabis -- which will have both storefronts and internet sales.
In tabling legislation regulating cannabis in the province, Public Safety Minister Lucie Charlebois said the government-operated stores will be the only legal place to procure cannabis in the province, similar to the SAQ's monopoly on spirits and the distribution of all alcohol.
"This group will sell, but will not promote the use of cannabis," said Charlebois.
"The goal is not to increase the market. The goal is to move the black market to the legal market."
She said people will finally know exactly what they are buying, and the health impact it will have.
The SQC will be a subsidiary of the SAQ, and while it will sell pipes and other paraphernalia, other stores will be allowed to sell those items.
"We're not trying to boost the Quebec economy by selling cannabis. What we want is for cannabis sales to pay for cannabis expenses," said Charlebois.
Don't smoke and drive
She added that people will not be allowed to grow marijuana at home, and they would immediately have their licence suspended for 90 days if they use cannabis and drive.
"We will have a zero-tolerance policy," when it comes to using marijuana and driving, said Charlebois.
She said that police officers would be using saliva tests for cannabis as soon as they are approved by the federal and provincial governments, and that any detectable amount would result in an immediate arrest.
"It prohibits anyone from driving a vehicle ... if there is any detectable presence of cannabis or any other drug in their saliva,"said Charlebois although not all police officers may have saliva testing kits by next summer.
Transportation Minister Andre Fortin said while some people may be upset with the zero-tolerance policy for marijuana while the same does not apply for alcohol, there was a good reason for it.
"Cannabis is a product that will be newly legal on the market and it has a vastly different impact from one consumer to another," said Fortin.
"We want to be clear about our message: if you consume cannabis you cannot operate a vehicle."
Drivers would not be allowed to refuse a saliva test, similar to how they cannot refuse a breathalyzer test for alcohol.
Police across Canada have been experimenting with roadside saliva tests for drug use, and have determined that the THC-based compounds in saliva can be detected up to six hours after smoking.
"When the technology is ready, when it's approved by Justice Canada, when it's approved by Public Security here, it'll be the first roadside test that is given to a driver. As soon as you fail that test, meaning you have consumed in the past four to six hours, you will be given a 90-day suspension of your driver's licence," said Fortin.
No growing at home
The federal law regarding marijuana allows individuals to grow up to four plants at home, but gives the final say to the provinces.
Charlebois said the majority of Quebecers opposed letting people grow weed in their residence, and she is complying with the demands of the majority.
"The authorization to plant at home, we put none because that is what most people asked us," said Charlebois.
"We are more in prevention and more restrictive as a start for a new law, with a new bill, but I think we've responded to what the people have asked for."
Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said it would be very difficult for the government to enforce a limit if it allowed marijuana to be grown at home.
"It would constitute a nightmare of enforcement. One plant, two plants, how big, how small, which apartment which house, are you a renter, are you a homeowner? The enforcement of that in other provinces is going to be quite problematic," said Leitao.
Smoking marijuana will be prohibited everywhere smoking tobacco is forbidden, and just like tobacco, the legal age to use marijuana will be 18.
Impact will be evaluated in three years
While the governments of several provinces including Quebec feel they are being rushed by the federal government's July 1 date, ministers said the province would be ready to sell and control cannabis.
"Frankly we've tried the repressive model for the past 30 years and obviously it has not worked," said Leitao.
Parti Quebecois leader Jean-Francois Lisée said the federal government has plunged the province into a "rushed timeline" for legalizing marijuana.
Charlebois said provinces were doing their best to protect the population and not turn cannabis into a free-for-all.
"After all the consultations that we made with the experts but also with the municipalities, with the indigenous population, with young people, and we also consulted all the population and organizations in the field and what you see in the bill is what most of the people asked for, and what the experts told us to do as a first bill. It's going to evolve in time," said Charlebois.
She said the provincial government would evaluate the impact of cannabis on the province in three years and determine what changes could be made.
"I'm sure there are going to be changes after three years. I'm sure of that. It's a new product that we're making and nobody here knows how it's going to go because it's a new legal thing and organized crime is not telling us how they're doing their business," said Charlebois.