MONTREAL -- Quebecers between 18 and 21 will soon have to give up their green: the Coalition Avenir Quebec government has adopted a new law on cannabis consumption.

The legal age to use marijuana will rise from 18 to 21 as of Jan. 1, 2020.

The government adopted Bill 2, which raises the legal age for cannabis consumption, Tuesday afternoon at the National Assembly in Quebec City. The bill passed by a vote of 64 to 43, with no MNAs abstaining.

Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant tabled the bill, and has said that it was created to protect young, developing brains from the risks associated with using marijuana.

The Quebec Cannabis Industry Association wasted little time in criticizing the government's passage of Bill 2, saying it will only steer young Quebecers to the black market for cannabis.

"The government’s motives are surprising in this approach," QCIA president Michel Temperio said in a statement sent just minutes after passage of the bill. "Note that public health officials and safety experts who advised the federal government over the implementation of cannabis legalization in the country, as well as many Quebec organizations specializing in cannabis, have advocated for a harm reduction approach by recommending that the minimum age be set at 18 years old."

Quebec's association of public health has also criticized the bill, with spokesperson Marianne Dessureault saying at public consultation earlier this year that "it has a populist appeal and that it doesn't have its place in public health policy."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has even criticized Quebec's plan to raise the age limit to 21, saying it could leave an opening for organized crime.

Quebec strict on cannabis

Quebec's cannabis laws are some of the strictest in Canada. While Ottawa legalized THC and CBD products including edibles, beverages, vapes and topical forms of cannabis on Oct. 17, exactly one year after Canada legalized recreational marijuana use, Quebec has delayed the process.

The province's cannabis dispensary, the SQDC, said earlier this month that it expects the second wave of legalization to be gradually rolled out in mid-December with products that "should be mainly beverages," including teas, carbonated water and non-alcoholic beers, according to spokesperson Fabrice Giguere.

Quebec has also appealed a court decision made on Oct. 10 invalidating parts of the Quebec Cannabis Regulation Act that prohibited home cultivation.

The judge ruled that sections of the law prohibiting growing cannabis plants for personal use are unconstitutional. Federal law allows Canadians to grow up to four plants in their homes.


Experts optimistic the age restriction will limit harm

Some experts, like Patricia Conrod, a psychiatry professor at the Universite de Montreal, believe the lower age limit is a good idea.

Restricting access to cannabis for younger people should help protect them from the drug’s adverse effects, Conrod said. Marijuana negatively affects brain development in teens and children.

“There’s mounting evidence to suggest that cannabis use for young people is a really bad idea,” she explained. “There are significant health concerns as well as some indication it’s interfering with cognitive development.”

But scientists and health officials lack data on the drug’s impact on 18 to 25-year-olds, she said

“We know that cognitive development continues through that age period, and really what we lack at the moment are studies that investigate the impact of cannabis exposure on cognitive development during that period,” she said.

In countries where the legal alcohol consumption age is 21, children are less likely to consume it, the professor added. She suspected the same policy--raising the legal age--would reduce cannabis use among teens in Quebec. 

- With files from The Canadian Press