Montreal says it could not enforce ban on marijuana in public spaces
The Mayor of Montreal and the city's chief of police say it would be impossible to enforce a ban on smoking marijuana in all public spaces, a move that the provincial government would like to implement.
Bill 2 would raise the legal age for using marijuana in Quebec from 18 to 21, and would institute a province-wide ban on smoking cannabis in all public spaces.
Speaking at public hearings regarding the legislation, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante and police chief Sylvain Caron said provincial legislators fail to understand that life in the metropolis is not like life in the rest of the province.
"Municipalities should have the right to decide what makes sense on their territory. I do not believe in 'one fit for all.' Montreal is different than Baie-Comeau or Rouyn-Noranda," she said.
Plante pointed out that the majority -- 60 percent -- of people who live in Montreal are tenants, and as such are frequently not allowed to smoke cannabis or tobacco inside their homes.
As a result people who want to use the legal but regulated products must go outside.
"We cannot just tell them go and smoke in your home. It doesn't necessarily work that way, because for tenants it's different than if you own your own house," Plante said.
Plante said banning the use of cannabis in public spaces would effectively prohibit the majority of the population from using it.
"That, for me, is where the real problem lies. While the motive may be noble, I'm of the school -- and that's the reason why we're working with public health -- that it's better to reduce the use and the harm," said Plante.
Lack of manpower
Police chief Caron said that if the use of cannabis in parks and other public spaces became the law, it simply could not be enforced by Montreal police.
He said that at the moment it takes 15 to 45 minutes for police officers to respond to a call about marijuana use in a prohibited space.
Caron said if a blanket ban on smoking outdoors came into effect then officers would constantly be occupied by dealing with cannabis smoking, and would not have time to deal with any other police matters.
Opposition calls hearings a sham
Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant is shepherding the legislation through the National Assembly, and said he is being attentive to complaints.
"I am listening, and we're thinking about what we can do to improve the project," said Carmant.
"I think there are other ways to adjust to the realities of different municipalities rather than having everybody smoke in the streets."
But the Liberals are accusing the government of stacking the hearings with groups who support their bill, and dismissing feedback from those who disagree with the minister's plans.
"The whole exercise is a bit of a circus to be quite honest with you," said Liberal critic Andre Fortin.
"He's made up his mind from the start. He said before the commission even opened that he wasn't going to make any changes to the legal age for possession of cannabis."
The Quebec Bar Association is sounding the alarm about the CAQ's proposed age restrictions.
The group wasn't invited to speak at the hearings, but released a statement to the media and submitted a brief to the National Assembly, saying the bill could face a constitutional challenge on the grounds of age discrimination, because the legal age for smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol is 18.