Bill 2: High Time or Buzz Kill?

Graphic by Eden Granovsky

To protect the names of individuals who are involved in the illegal consumption of cannabis, certain names will be changed to protect their identity.

“Shit, oh shit.” 

That was “Tessa’s” first reaction to hearing that Quebec had just enacted the most conservative cannabis restriction in the country. The legal age to buy and consume cannabis would become 21, effective Jan 1, 2020. Other underage students, like “Miles,” were equally surprised.

“I was kind of shocked because I thought that in Quebec and Montreal, laws regarding [cannabis] were pretty relaxed,” Miles said. “I was so surprised it moved up to 21 and I didn’t really understand why they would do that because it doesn’t really make that much sense.”

Having been tabled previously by Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant, Bill 2 was passed on Oct. 29, 2019 at the National Assembly, with a vote of 64 to 43. Afterward, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that increasing the legal age undermines the federal government’s efforts to eliminate the black market. Echoing Trudeau’s statements, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante told reporters: “They are saying to youth, go and get your stuff from organized crime.”

They are saying to youth, go and get your stuff from organized crime.

Many underage McGill students, including “Landon,” are doing exactly that: instead of buying weed from the SQDC, a legal cannabis store, they’re turning to dealers.

“I still had a bunch [of weed] left over from last semester,” Landon said. “Now, I’m going to start buying it from a drug dealer.”

Tessa also mentioned going to a dealer, but dealers aren’t the only way underage students are accessing weed now that it’s illegal. Miles says he knows people using fake IDs, which allows them access to SQDC and online dealers. “Paige” said that she now orders weed from the website, which she found through Weedmaps. 

THC Collection brands themselves as one of the leading mail order marijuana sites in Canada, and Weedmaps “provides consumers with information regarding cannabis products, including online ordering.” Both websites are legal, and before people can use them, they only need to confirm they are of age by clicking a yes/no button. 

Although many dealers on Weedmaps ask for identification, students who smoke are finding loopholes regardless. “The SQDC doesn’t know Fake IDs exist, so I walk in like I own the place,” U2 Arts student “Vera” explained, but added that the convenience of Weedmaps can’t be beat: “The delivery service is open until midnight, so until the SQDC gets better hours, I have no reason to return.”

According to Daniel Weinstock, the director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy, easy accessibility for underage consumers despite the new law is why Quebec should move towards legalization and regulation instead of prohibition. 

In an article for Policy Options, Weinstock writes that “at first glance, prohibition seems to make sense. But we pay our elected officials to go beyond the first glance. Will the prohibition of cannabis for persons under 21 actually protect young Quebecers more than legalization and regulation would? The context of cannabis use by youth suggests reasons to think that it will not.”

Miles voiced a similar sentiment, calling the increase in legal age “naive.” 

“If you were smoking weed before, you’re not just going to stop because of the law,” he said. “It hasn’t really become less accessible. You’re just going to find another way to get it, and it’s just going to be less safe.”

If you were smoking weed before … [now] you’re just going to find another way to get it, and it’s just going to be less safe.

Carmant, the pediatric neurologist who tabled the bill, has told reporters that he wrote the bill to protect young people. According to Carmant, adolescents are the “most vulnerable to cannabis,” and if possible, he would raise the legal age to 25. But Landon says that what’s most frustrating about this argument is that it is only used in the regulation of cannabis, and ignored for substances like nicotine.

“I get the whole scientific thing; your brain hasn’t finished developing until you’re 25 or something, but they didn’t change the age to 25,” Landon said. “They didn’t change the age for alcohol and nicotine, which are both way worse for your health.”

Weinstock agrees, arguing that while prohibition could be ideal, it’s ultimately unenforceable. In his opinion, a much more efficient way to control the harm of cannabis consumption is regulation, which includes product testing and full transparency on potency.

“When prohibitions are ineffective, responsible legislators should look for other ways of minimizing risk,” Weinstock writes. “Prohibition combined with lack of sufficient enforcement capacity could be the riskiest strategy of all.”

At McGill, prohibition has always been the policy: since legalization was first introduced in 2018, the interim policy was that all consumption of cannabis on campus was banned. 

At the beginning of the winter semester, student residences posted numerous signs warning students of the increase in legal age and advertising the new residence policy that smoking and possessing cannabis anywhere in residence was illegal. Yet, many students are willing to break these rules to continue smoking weed. 

Paige says she smokes in her room “even though you’re not supposed to,” and Miles says “I still smoke outside. In the same place [as last semester].” 

For many underage students, not much has changed from last semester. Even though it is no longer legally accessible, both Landon and Paige say that they are not consuming any less cannabis than before. And even though Miles says that he’s smoking less this semester, he makes it clear that “it wasn’t the legal age that made that decision. I just told myself I’d smoke less this semester.”

While the new law was enacted with goals to restrict accessibility and consumption of cannabis for young adolescents, students make it clear that that’s not happening. 

If people want to buy weed they’re going to find ways.

“[It’s] not going to change,” Tessa said. “People used to buy weed, people still buy weed. [The increase in legal age] doesn’t make a difference, in my opinion. If people want to buy weed they’re going to find ways.”

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