On November 16, 2017, the Government of Quebec tabled Bill 157, an Act to constitute the Société québécoise du cannabis, to enact the Cannabis Regulation Act and to amend various highway safety-related provisions (Bill), before the National Assembly of Quebec, to establish regulations governing the sale, distribution, cultivation and use of cannabis in the province.
More specifically, the Bill constitutes the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQC), enacts the Cannabis Regulation Act (Act) and amends the Highway Safety Code (Code).
If adopted, the Bill will have significant repercussions on the recreational cannabis market. Quebec’s existing laws will remain in effect until the Bill receives royal assent.
CANNABIS REGULATION ACT
Broadly, the purpose of the Act is to prevent and reduce cannabis harm in order to protect the health and security of the public and of young persons, and to ensure the preservation of the cannabis market’s integrity. In particular, the Act will provide for the following:
- Only the SQC may purchase cannabis from a cannabis producer, ensure its transportation and storage and sell cannabis
- The minimum legal age for purchase, use and possession is 18, in line with the minimum age for consuming alcohol and tobacco in Quebec (note that in Ontario, the legal age is 19)
- The use of cannabis is prohibited in public places
- Any cannabis cultivation for personal purposes is prohibited, even though the Cannabis Act (Canada) permits such a practice.
Employers will be responsible for updating their employment policies to prohibit and prevent the use and possession of cannabis in the workplace.
Cultivation and Production
The Act prohibits the cultivation of cannabis for personal purposes, despite the provisions of the Cannabis Act (Canada). No one may produce cannabis for commercial purposes in Quebec, unless that person is a cannabis producer who meets the conditions and qualifications determined by government regulation, which may include holding a federal licence issued under the Cannabis Act (Canada).
A cannabis producer may sell cannabis only to the SQC, unless the producer is shipping it outside Quebec or as otherwise allowed by regulation. Only the SQC may purchase cannabis from a producer, ensure its transportation and storage and sell cannabis.
The Act prohibits: (i) the supply or distribution of cannabis free of charge or for promotional purposes of any kind to consumers; (ii) the reduction of the retail price of cannabis on the basis of volume, other than as part of regular marketing operations by the producer, and the offer or grant of a rebate to consumers on the market price of cannabis; (iii) offering consumers a gift or rebate or a right to participate in a lottery, contest or game or any other form of benefit if consumers must in return, provide information on cannabis or their cannabis consumption, or purchase or present proof of purchase of a cannabis product.
Any other direct or indirect sponsorship that is associated with the promotion of cannabis is prohibited, except for gifts made without any promotional association.
In addition, no name, logo, brand element, design, image or slogan that is associated with cannabis can be associated with a sport, cultural or social facility, a facility maintained by a health or social services institution or by a research center.
Advertising and Packaging
Advertising cannabis is prohibited where it:
- Is directed at minors
- Is false or misleading or likely to create an erroneous impression about the characteristics, health effects or hazards of cannabis
- Associates the use of cannabis with a particular lifestyle
- Uses testimonials or endorsements
- Uses a slogan
- Contains a text that refers to real or fictional persons, characters or animals
- Contains anything apart from text, with the exception of an illustration of the package or packaging of cannabis occupying not more than 10 per cent of the surface area of the advertising material
- Is disseminated other than: in printed newspapers and magazines with an adult readership of no less than 85 per cent, with a specific warning on the harmful effects of cannabis on health; or by means of signage visible only from the inside of a cannabis retail outlet.
The Act prohibits the use of the aforementioned concepts on cannabis packaging and containers. Further, it stipulates that the government may determine other standards relating to cannabis containers, packaging and display, and require cannabis producers to print the harmful effects of cannabis on their packaging.
Composition and Characteristics of Cannabis and Cannabis Accessories
Under the Act, the government determined that no additives or other substances intended to modify the odour, taste or colour should be contained in dried cannabis, cannabis oil, fresh cannabis and cannabis concentrates sold by the SQC, unless otherwise stipulated by regulations. In addition, cannabis accessories may not have any flavor or aroma.
Under the Act, smoking cannabis would be prohibited in health and social services institutions, post-secondary schools and all other enclosed spaces to which the public has admittance. However, certain enumerated enclosed spaces may contain designated closed rooms where cannabis smoking is permitted. Operators of the spaces and facilities previously described must post visible signs indicating the areas where smoking is prohibited.
The Act sets the minimum legal age for purchase, use and possession of cannabis at 18, which aligns with the Quebec minimum age on alcohol and tobacco use. It will be prohibited for a person of legal age to possess a total amount of over 150 grams of dried cannabis, even in one’s private residence.
SOCIÉTÉ QUÉBÉCOISE DU CANNABIS
The Bill constitutes the SQC, a joint stock company and subsidiary of the Société des alcools du Québec. The SQC’s purpose is to carry out the sale of cannabis and to this end, it may: (i) buy cannabis produced for commercial purposes by a qualified producer who meets the conditions determined by government regulation under the Cannabis Regulation Act; (ii) operate cannabis retail outlets; (iii) sell cannabis over the Internet; and (iv) authorize a person to engage, on its behalf, in the transportation, delivery and storage of cannabis.
The SQC will determine the sale price of cannabis; however, the Minister of Finance may set parameters on how the sale price is to be determined. The Bill establishes the Cannabis Sales Revenue Fund with the Ministère des Finances, which, among other things, is dedicated to the financing of the Cannabis Prevention and Research Fund, and to the prevention of, and the fight against, the harm associated with psychoactive substance use.
The government may make regulations determining the standards of purchase and sale of cannabis by the SQC, the conditions that must be met in order to be authorized to transport or store cannabis for the SQC, and the conditions for the online sale of cannabis by the SQC.
Retail Sale and SQC Retail Outlets
The retail sale of cannabis must be sold in a SQC retail outlet, unless it is sold over the Internet. Such an outlet must be a fixed place that is accessible to customers only through an opening equipped with a door. All cannabis sales employees must hold a certificate confirming their successful completion of training on the sale of cannabis. The SQC may not sell a total amount of cannabis equivalent to more than 30 grams of dried cannabis to a purchaser in the course of a same visit to a cannabis retail outlet. Further, cannabis will only be visible from the inside of the outlet and will only be displayed in such a way that customers may not have access to it without an employee’s assistance.
The government plans to establish around 15 retail outlets throughout Quebec by July 2018, and 150 retail outlets throughout Quebec by July 2020.
HIGHWAY SAFETY CODE
Among other amendments to existing legislation, the amendments to the Code and other applicable laws mainly seek to regulate the presence of alcohol or drugs in an individual’s body when operating a motor vehicle, and to introduce a new zero-tolerance policy.