On April 13, 2017 the federal government, on the heels of an election promise made in 2015, tabled a bill in the House of Commons proposing the legalization of recreational cannabis. The bill, entitled An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, has still not been adopted, and Parliament is currently studying the report of a House of Commons Committee which proposes various amendments.

In response to this federal initiative and in order to legislate on related matters within its jurisdiction, the Quebec government tabled a bill in the National Assembly on November 16 entitled An Act to constitute the Société québécoise du cannabis, to enact the Cannabis Regulation Act and to amend various highway safety-related provisions.

The bill provides for the creation of the Société québécoise du cannabis (the “SQC”), a joint stock company that is to be a subsidiary of the Société des alcools du Québec. It will have the exclusive right to sell cannabis in Quebec, with some as yet unspecified exceptions. Its mission is to ensure the sale of cannabis from a public health perspective in order to integrate consumers into, and maintain them in, the legal market, but without encouraging consumption.

The Cannabis Regulation Act also provides that only the SQC may purchase cannabis from a producer thereof, transport, store and sell it, again with certain exceptions. It sets out the conditions applicable to the retail sale of cannabis, which include requiring SQC employees to hold a certificate confirming successful completion of training on the sale of cannabis, prohibiting minors from accessing cannabis retail outlets, limiting the products the SQC may sell and requiring that cannabis only be visible from the inside of cannabis retail outlets.

The bill also prescribes various measures regarding the possession of cannabis and its cultivation for personal use, in particular a prohibition on cultivating it for personal use in a residential dwelling and a prohibition on its possession by minors. The bill prohibits the smoking of cannabis in those locations where tobacco use is currently forbidden and in addition extends the prohibition to tourist accommodation establishments, the premises of post-secondary educational institutions and certain healthcare institutions, and spaces where sports activities are held.

Apart from restrictions on using cannabis in certain locations, the Quebec legislation will not apply to cannabis whose production and possession are authorized for medical purposes under a federal statute.

The bill also prohibits anyone from producing cannabis for commercial purposes in Quebec unless they have the qualifications and satisfy the conditions determined by the Quebec government. It also allows the government to set standards for the composition and characteristics of cannabis. The content of the regulations in this regard is not yet known.

The Cannabis Regulation Act also prescribes the rules applicable to the advertizing, promotion and packaging of cannabis.

Finally, the bill imposes a new zero-tolerance rule for drugs, by prohibiting any person from driving a road vehicle with any detectable trace in their saliva of cannabis or another drug. This will represent a major challenge for both consumers and the police, as traces of cannabis in the body can still be detected several days following its consumption.

During a press conference on the occasion of the tabling of the bill, the minister sponsoring it, the Honourable Lucie Charlebois, indicated that the Quebec government was again asking the Government of Canada to postpone the proposed effective date of the federal legislation by one year, i.e. until July 1, 2019. That same day the National Assembly adopted a motion in support of that postponement. Quebec’s request for a postponement has also received the support of the new mayor of Montreal.

The government has announced that there will be a series of special consultations concerning the bill, and it intends to submit to the opposition parties a list of groups and individuals who will be invited to make presentations. This process could begin even before the current legislative session ends.

The tabling of this bill opens new horizons, and its impacts will be followed closely. It will no doubt undergo several amendments. It represents a political test for the Quebec government insofar as its relations with the federal government are concerned.