As the clock ticks toward legalization, Andy Riga takes stock of the rules.
You’re forgiven for being confused about the rules surrounding marijuana, which becomes legal for recreational use as of Wednesday, Oct. 17.
There’s a federal law, which sets the framework for legalization. Then there’s a Quebec law adopted by the provincial Liberals in June, which François Legault’s incoming Coalition Avenir Québec government will soon replace with yet another law.
Quebec could go from being one of the most permissive jurisdictions to one of the most restrictive.
But the new law will only come after legalization takes effect and the CAQ has not given a specific timeline for the changes.
Some cities and even boroughs are also getting in on the act, setting rules about where cannabis can be smoked.
And since every province can set its own cannabis rules, there are even more regulations to keep in mind when travelling.
As the clock ticks toward legalization, here’s a guide to Quebec’s current rules, what is expected to change under the CAQ and how the rest of Canada is handling some of the thorny issues.
Q How old do I have to be to buy cannabis in Quebec?
A For now, anyone 18 or older will be able to buy it. But the new CAQ government says it will increase the minimum age to 21, pointing to studies that suggest cannabis use can harm young, developing brains.
Alberta also chose 18 as the minimum age but all other provinces and territories opted for 19.
Q Where can I consume cannabis?
A These rules are complicated, in flux and may change.
Quebec’s current law bars people from consuming cannabis wherever tobacco smoking is prohibited, as well as in some other locations.
The long list of places where consumption is barred includes bars, restaurants, CÉGEPs, universities, sports centres, daycares, schools, hospitals, bus shelters and within nine metres of the doors and windows of these places.
Usage is also forbidden in outdoor play areas intended for children that are open to the public, including splash pads, wading pools and skate parks, as well as within nine metres of these places.
But Quebec’s current law is mute on the topic of other public spaces such as parks and streets, leaving that detail to cities.
Some municipalities have tried to fill the void — Hampstead, Westmount and Quebec City are restricting smoking in some or all public spaces.
Montreal has opted not to pass its own bylaw, instead sticking with provincial rules that allow marijuana use in parks and streets.
However, puffing on marijuana will still be verboten in some Montreal parks.
That’s because five boroughs where the Ensemble Montréal opposition party controls local councils — St-Laurent, Pierrefonds-Roxboro, St-Léonard, Montreal North and Rivière-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles — say cannabis use should be banned in public places. This week, St-Laurent became the first to enact such a bylaw, so starting on Day 1, you won’t be able to use any form of cannabis in that borough’s parks or on its streets.
That will create a situation where on the St-Laurent side of a street you can’t smoke cannabis but on the other side — in neighbouring Ahuntsic-Cartierville, for example — you can puff away.
The CAQ has said the jumble of rules will lead to “chaos,” with people unsure which rules apply.
That’s why the CAQ says it plans to impose a blanket ban on consumption in all public places, including parks and streets across the province. However, it has not given a timeline.
Q Where can I buy cannabis? A Twelve Société québécoise du cannabis stores will open Oct. 17, with another three to start selling marijuana before the end of the month.
Of those 15, four are on Montreal Island. These Montreal locations will open on Oct. 17: 970 Ste-Catherine St. W., 9250 l’Acadie Blvd. and 6872 St-Hubert St. The fourth, 830 Ste-Catherine St. E., will open later in October.
One store will open later this month on the South Shore (9575 Ignace St. in Brossard). No stores are planned for Laval.
By year-end, 20 SQDC stores are expected to be in operation across Quebec.
The SQDC is an offshoot of Quebec’s government-run liquor-store monopoly, the
Société des alcools du Québec.
Q What will cannabis stores be like?
A From the street, you won’t be able to see the products for sale. Inside, stores will not promote or encourage consumption via displays, posters, literature, product labels or advice provided by employees, the SQDC says.
A security guard in the store’s foyer will screen customers to make sure they meet the age restriction. Once inside, buyers can get product information from interactive displays, posters and employees. The product itself will be behind the counter or in closed glass cases.
Q How much will cannabis cost? A Prices have not been revealed but the SQDC says the cheapest items will cost less than $7 per gram. Quebec’s prices are expected to be the lowest in Canada.
Q What will be sold at cannabis stores?
A In total, about 150 different products will be available.
Cannabis will be sold in dried, fresh or oil format. You’ll be able to buy pre-rolled joints, marijuana in pill form and accessories such as cannabis vaporizers.
Products will be available in 10 different aromas, from food-inspired ones such as lemon and cheese to quirky ones — skunk and diesel fuel among them. Woody, earthy and floral aromas will also be on tap.
Q Will buying cannabis be like wine shopping at SAQ stores?
A In some ways, yes. As with wine at the SAQ, cannabis stores will offer a wide selection of products and employees will provide guidance.
However, you won’t be able to sample the cannabis products.
And, unlike SAQ workers, who don’t warn about alcohol’s harmful effects and the dangers of drunk drinking, SQDC employees will provide information
about the effects and risks of cannabis use.
Q What about online sales? A The SQDC’s online store will open at 9 a.m. on Oct. 17.
To accept delivery, consumers will have to show ID proving they are at least 18. Packages will not be left unattended at the door if no one is home.
Q Will edibles be sold? A No. The sale of such products will still be prohibited.
Q How much cannabis can I have in my possession?
A In a public place, you will be allowed to possess 30 grams of dried cannabis. That’s the maximum amount you’ll be able to buy at a store. One gram is about the size of a loonie and can produce up to three joints.
At home, up to 150 grams can be kept. That limit applies no matter how many people live there.
In Quebec, youth are not allowed to possess any cannabis.
Q Can I leave cannabis anywhere at home?
A Not if children can come into contact with it. Quebec’s law calls for a fine of $250 to $750 if you are caught keeping cannabis “in an unsafe place easily accessible by minors.”
The Canadian Association of Poison Control Centres says all cannabis products should be stored as you would “medications and other potentially toxic products — locked up and out of reach in child-resistant packaging or containers.”
Q Can I grow my own cannabis? A Under Quebec’s law, it is prohibited to cultivate cannabis for personal use.
Federal legislation allows Canadians to grow as many as four plants at home for their own consumption. Ottawa has said it has no intention of contesting Quebec’s ban but individual citizens may ask the courts to strike
down the province’s rule. Q Can I travel with cannabis? A When travelling inside Canada, check local consumption rules as they may vary. In Ontario, for example, smoking it in some public spaces will be permitted. But New Brunswick says “consumption of cannabis in any form will be prohibited anywhere but in a private dwelling or on land adjacent to a private dwelling.”
Ottawa is warning travellers it’s illegal to take cannabis across Canada’s international borders and that travelling to another country with any cannabis could result in criminal charges.
In addition, the federal government notes, a traveller could be denied entry to another country if they are involved in Canada’s legal cannabis industry or if they have “used cannabis or any substance prohibited by local laws.”
Q Can I still buy cannabis from my local dealer?
A Not legally. Only the SQDC is authorized to sell recreational cannabis in Quebec.
The federal government says displacing the illegal market is one of the goals of legalization.
Q Can I use cannabis at work? A Consumption is prohibited in workplaces, except some workplaces located in a private residence. In some situations — dangerous workplaces, for example — employers can conduct random drug tests.
Q Can I smoke cannabis in my apartment or condo?
A It depends on your lease or condo rules. If there is already a no-smoking rule, then, no, you can’t smoke marijuana.
Under Quebec’s cannabis law, within 90 days of legalization a landlord can change the lease conditions by adding a prohibition against smoking cannabis. With condos, rules can be changed if a majority of homeowners agree.
Q Can I drive after consuming cannabis?
A No. Cannabis impairs your ability to drive. And if you’re caught, you could lose your licence and face a stiff fine and a criminal record.
Police who suspect someone is driving under the influence of drugs can ask the motorist to perform a series of physical coordination tests focused on eye movement, walking and balance, Montreal police say.
Fail these tests and a police officer will arrest you and take you to a police station where you will undergo more co-ordination tests and provide a urine sample for analysis.
If convicted of driving while impaired by drugs, the penalties are the same as for drunk driving, Quebec’s auto-insurance board says. For a first offence that means a criminal record, a minimum $1,000 fine and drivers’ licence suspension for a minimum of one year.
Q Where can I get more information?
Quebec cannabis sales: infocannabis.saq.com Quebec’s current cannabis law:
encadrementcannabis.gouv.qc.ca The federal law: canada.ca/cannabis
An artist’s depiction of Queb ec’s cannab is stores. From the street, you won’t b e ab le to see the products for sale. A security guard in the store’s foyer will screen customers.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante spelled out the city’s rules for cannab is use earlier this week. Montreal has opted not to pass its own b ylaw, instead sticking with provincial rules that allow marijuana use in parks and streets.