BUSINESS
10/30/2019 13:11 EDT

Quebec's New Legal Cannabis Age Will Boost Black Market, Industry Says

Growers say the province is "going against the objective of legalization" by raising the legal age to 21.

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A downtown Montreal storefront of the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), the regulatory agency for marijuana in Quebec, is photographed on May 14, 2019.

MONTREAL ― Quebec’s cannabis growers are criticizing a new law that will take away the right of consumers aged 18 to 20 to buy marijuana legally.

The province’s new legislation, which will raise the minimum age to buy cannabis to 21 from 18, will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, is being called the toughest marijuana law in the country. Producers say the move will push buyers back into the hands of the black market.

“This decision goes against the objective of legalization ― improve public safety by offering quality products rigorously controlled, and the eradication of the black market,” the Quebec Cannabis Industry Association ― which represents 25 cannabis producers ― said in a statement.

Watch: These Canadian towns are booming thanks to legal weed. Story continues below.

 

The group’s president, Michel Timperio, said he found the province’s approach “surprising” given that “health officials and safety experts who advised the federal government over the implementation of cannabis legalization ... have advocated for a harm reduction approach by recommending that the minimum age be set at 18 years old.”

Industry analyst Chris Damas estimates that, with all other things being equal, the change would reduce legal cannabis sales in Quebec by about 10 per cent ― a revenue decline of around $20 million annually, at current sales levels.

But Damas doesn’t think that will happen in actuality, because of the relative ease of getting around the law.

“I doubt a motivated 19- or 20- year-old couldn’t find a 21-year-old to buy the product for a party or other get together,” Damas said.

“I understand what the government is trying to achieve ― limit use by youths when their development is still ongoing ― but I doubt it will have a material impact on sales or the bottom line of producers.”

Quebec’s industry is worried about another obstacle potentially on the horizon: The provincial Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government, led by Premier Francois Legault, has also moved to ban marijuana edibles ― a rapidly-growing part of the cannabis industry that producers had pinned their hopes on, given edibles are seen as less harmful than smoking.

The industry says Quebec faces the spectre of consumers buying edible products that were made and sold legally in other parts of Canada ― but in Quebec can only be bought through the black market.

“We believe that Quebecers should have access to legal products that are ... distributed by professionals who can properly inform consumers, not by the local drug dealer,” Timperio said.

Another ― perhaps larger ― problem that many industry analysts have flagged is a lack of access to legal customers.

Damas estimates that Quebec needs around 800 retail locations to fill the current demand for weed. The Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), the provincially-controlled monopoly retailer, currently lists 24 locations and has plans to open another 20 by March 2020.

A recent survey found that 82 per cent of Quebecers still bought their weed through the black market in the first year of cannabis legalization.