As of January 2020, the government of Quebec has implemented a number of new regulations concerning both the recreational and medical use of cannabis. The Cannabis Regulation Act, also known as Bill 2, now prohibits smoking cannabis in public places, both indoor and outdoor, and has raised the minimum age to possess or purchase cannabis to 21 years.
According to Montreal-based lawyer Max Silverman, these regulations create many new hardships for medical cannabis users. Previously, use of cannabis was regulated by the federal government; now that provincial governments have been given the authority to regulate cannabis themselves, the Quebec government has been able to impose many strict regulations on the use of medical cannabis, Silverman said. Among such regulations are new provisions in rental law. Whereas provincial housing law previously had no regulations regarding cannabis use, as the federal government regulated cannabis, Quebec rental law now includes language which specifically allows landlords to ban cannabis consumption. While the law states that medical patients may be exempted from this restriction, Silverman said that “The Regie du Logement (Quebec’s landlord-tenant board) has interpreted this medical exception very strictly and, in many cases, a prescription has been ruled not enough to prove medical need.” These regulations severely limit the accessibility of medical cannabis, as they only guarantee patients the right to consume medical cannabis on their own property. According to Silverman, this is a “major violation of human rights;” cannabis is a palliative substance for people with disabilities and should be protected under human rights law, including the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
While Silverman’s main concern as a lawyer who represents medical cannabis users is how the law impacts the use of medical cannabis, he recognizes that it also has dangerous implications for users who are racialized. The Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) is reportedly 4-5 times more likely to stop a Black or Arab person than a white person, and 10 times more likely to stop an Indigenous person than a white person. These stops are illegal – unless the person stopped has committed an infraction. However, Montreal has many by-laws which Silverman characterized as “outdated” which can be used to legitimize illegal stops. Although the SPVM has stated they will not be enforcing the ban on public cannabis consumption, they may retroactively use these by-laws to justify racial profiling in stops and searches. The Cannabis Regulation Act is just one of many by-laws which effectively permit the arbitrary stopping of racialized individuals on the street, Silverman explained, naming many examples of such laws: stepping off the sidewalk, ashing a cigarette on the ground, making too much noise in your home.
In addition, these infractions could lead to fines – according to the Quebec government, “non-compliance with the regulatory standards applicable to the possession of cannabis in a public place” could result in a fine of up to $750, and a maximum fine of $1,500 for a repeated offence. The infractions themselves are not included in a criminal record, but failure to pay these hefty fines could lead to an arrest warrant, per Silverman.
Bill 2 can be weaponized so the SPVM may continue their practice of stopping racialized individuals on the street, and puts medical cannabis users at risk of being unable to access the support they need. Silverman’s clinic invites clients to solicit legal support if they experience problems with the bill, but no formal legal challenge to the law has yet been made by the clinic.