The Québec government introduced a bill last week that would raise the province's legal cannabis consumption age from 18 to 21. Now a group of doctors are speaking out against it.
When the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was elected to power back in October, the new regime pledged to raise the legal consumption age for cannabis to 21. This would make Québec's age limit higher than anywhere else in the country. A move that Quebec Premier François Legault says is necessary to protect youth in the province.
"I want to send a clear message to all young people. Please, don't use pot. It's not good, it's dangerous," Legault said when the bill to raise the age limit was introduced last week.
Québec's medical community is fighting back, however. Earlier this week the Association pour la santé publique du Québec (ASPQ) published a statement signed by six Québec-based medical specialists calling for the government to back off their plan.
"What we want to say is it is not true that science is behind this decision," Jean-Sébastien Fallu—a professor in psycho-education and addiction specialist at the Université de Montréal—told CBC. Fallu was one of the health care professionals who signed the ASPQ statement.
Fallu insists that raising the age for legal access to marijuana won't do anything to stop young people from using it.
"That's completely unrealistic," he said. "They're going to continue to use."
And as Fallu says, there is no reason to raise the age of access from a public health angle either.
"This is something the population has to understand," he said. "There is no basis for a delayed access to cannabis."
Meanwhile, the legal drinking age in Québec remains at 18, something Fallu says we should be much more concerned about.
"If we are worried about our kids, we should first of all address alcohol," he said. "It's way more dangerous than cannabis."
And in fact, keeping cannabis illegal is likely to do more harm than good. The black market will continue to thrive, and people who do choose to buy cannabis illicitly won't have access to quality-controlled products. Prohibition also breeds stigmas and unnecessary criminalization.
Regardless, Québec's junior health minister Lionel Carmant says the province is sticking to their plan.
"We won't compromise the health of our youth because of the illicit market."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has similarly voiced his opposition to Québec's plan. With any luck, increased pressure on the CAQ will prevent them from following through.