Pubdate: Fri, 17 Nov 2017
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Philip Authier
Page: A1


Forced into the pot business by the federal government, the province
tabled a law on Thursday that imposes a strict framework for the
consumption, sale and distribution of marijuana.

Bill 157 - an act to constitute the Societe quebecoise du cannabis or
SQC - was formally presented in the legislature by the minister for
rehabilitation, youth protection, public health and healthy living,
Lucie Charlebois.

As expected after almost a year of testing the water with the public,
Quebec has opted for the path of prudence with a focus on averting
potential social, health and safety problems that it fears could
follow the liberalization of the use of the drug for recreational purposes.

The bill thus stipulates it will be tolerance zero when it comes to
motorists who decide to hit the road after lighting up or vaping
marijuana; a monopoly will run bland, austere sales outlets staffed by
prim and proper bureaucrats; and lots of money ($25 million a year for
the next five) will be spent on prevention and research. Despite
Ottawa's vision of how things could work, in Quebec you won't be
allowed to grow plants at home for personal consumption or light up
just anywhere.

The maximum the SQC can sell to anyone at one time is 30 grams and you
have to be 18 to make the purchase in-store or online.

An initial 15 stores are to be open by July 1, 2018, the day
possession and consumption of marijuana is supposed to become legal in
Canada. In two years, there will be 150 sales outlets, which will be
allowed to sell dried and fresh cannabis, cannabis oil and pot

The expression used by Charlebois at a news conference to explain the
bill was "responsible consumption."

Her colleague, Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, was blunt, calling
marijuana a "dangerous substance" that has only profited organized
crime for years.

Studies show the main buyers remain youth, age 18 to 22, despite
research concluding marijuana can affect the development of the brain.

In fact, it has been very clear Quebec would rather not get involved
with the pot business in the first place, with senior Couillard
government ministers conceding nobody knows how this story will end.

"Do I like drugs? No," Charlebois said. "Do we need to act? Yes.
Unfortunately they are a reality we have to deal with and which we
cannot ignore."

"Frankly, we've tried the repressive model for the last 30 years, and
obviously it has not worked," Leitao added.

Charlebois insisted Quebec is not interested in expanding the
consumption of cannabis or using sales to generate money for the government.

The plan is to get people to buy it lawfully and under government

The bill did not include a sales price. The omission was deliberate,
Leitao told the news conference, because Ottawa and the provinces have
yet to agree on the level of excise taxes to impose on cannabis sales,
which will affect the final retail price.

Ottawa recently estimated cannabis sales could generate about $1
billion a year in tax revenues for the entire country.

The provinces say most of that should come to them because of the
costs of implementing the policy, a federal Liberal election promise.

However, at a technical briefing after the bill was tabled, it was
clear the financial side of the business is being examined by the
government, with bureaucrats explaining the objective is to establish
a price that will woo buyers off the black market and into the legal

They cited expert testimony at hearings into the plan a few months
ago, and said the ideal price range would be $7 to $10 a gram.

Stressing their numbers are estimates - nobody really knows the exact
figures because organized crime controls the current trade - Quebec
believes about 140 tonnes of marijuana are on the market in any given

The objective is to seize control of half of that, which would
represent about $500 million in sales for the SQC, which will be a
subsidiary of the Societe des alcools, a crown corporation, officials

Based on those figures, Quebec estimates it could earn between $30 and
$40 million a year in excise tax revenues off sales and another $60
million in provincial sales tax.

Leitao, however, later urged caution. With so much uncertainty on how
high Quebec's cannabis business will fly, he said, he could not
endorse the figures.

Officials predict a temporary increase in consumption because of the
novelty factor: Customers who might not want to be seen walking into a
pot store will be able to purchase it online and have it delivered to
the door by Canada Post.

There are no plans to advertise the product and, unlike the SAQ, there
will be no in-store promotions or an "aspire," client loyalty card
modelled after the SAQ's "inspire" card.

Ottawa has assured the province the necessary equipment to test for
drug levels in motorists will be available by July 1.

In the interim, Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said police
officers are trained in the traditional ways of checking for
impairment like testing reflexes.

The law does not specify the government will pour the profits into
education and prevention, as had been urged by the Parti Quebecois

PQ health critic Sylvain Page said, in his opinion, the money could
eventually wind up becoming just another source of "sin tax" revenue
for Quebec, like tobacco and alcohol.

While pot activists and entrepreneurs said they were disappointed the
bill wasn't more liberal, the Coalition Avenir Quebec party, currently
No. 1 in public opinion polls, went the other way and called the bill
too permissive.

CAQ justice critic Simon JolinBarrette said allowing individuals to
keep up to 150 grams per person in their homes is way too much. A home
with five people could have as much as 750 grams under one roof.

He said with 150 eventual outlets, there will be more SQC outlets in
Quebec than there are St-Hubert BBQ restaurants.

The bill was immediately shunted off for study to a legislature
committee that will start examining the bill Nov. 28. Amendments are

It is unlikely the law will be adopted before the legislature recesses
for the Christmas break Dec. 8, in which case the debate would pick up
in February.
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MAP posted-by: Matt