People are seen lining up at a government-run cannabis store in Montreal. Under a law passed in October, people will need to be 21 to make a purchase, as of midnight Tuesday. (Martin Ouellet-Diotte/AFP/Getty Images)

Midnight brings a big change for Quebec pot smokers

As of midnight tonight, Quebecers under the age of 21 will not be allowed to buy or possess recreational cannabis.

Elsewhere in Canada, cannabis is permitted at age 19, except in Alberta, where the legal age is 18.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government passed a bill in October to create the new rules.

At the time, Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant said the goal was to send a “clear message” about the government’s priorities.

Cannabis has been legal in Quebec since Oct. 17, 2018. The provincial agency in charge of selling it has had trouble keeping its shelves stocked ever since. (CBC)

“We really want to protect our teenagers, which are most vulnerable to cannabis,” he said, adding that the increased age limit has the support of the majority people across the province.

But many, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have said the change of rules may not have the effect the government desires.

“It brings up questions, that this week an 18-year-old could go buy cannabis legally, but in a few months may have to go to the Hells Angels to buy it. Those are questions the government will have to answer to,” Trudeau said when the CAQ announced its plans a year ago. 

Critics of the legislation say it’s possible a small minority of young people in Quebec might put off using cannabis because of the law, but others will wind up buying pot illegally and using a contaminated unregulated product.

A poll in 2018 found that nearly half of Quebecers considered occasional, recreational use of cannabis to be socially acceptable, according to a survey by the Institut de la statistique Québec. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

Polls show that when pot was illegal–that is, before Oct 17, 2018 when Ottawa legalized recreational cannabis across the country–nearly half of Quebecers had tried the drug at least once in their lifetime by the age of 17.

The federal law that legalized pot mandated a minimum age of 18 for consumption and left changes above that to individual provinces.

The legal age for drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco in Quebec remain at 18.

The Quebec Bar Association has warned there could be constitutional challenges based on the issue of age discrimination.

With files from CBC, CP (Sidhartha Banerjee)

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