Quebec will have zero tolerance for driving while high and grow-your-own marijuana under a plan for the use and sale of cannabis that highlights the provincial government's discomfort with legalization.
Under draft legislation introduced on Thursday, the province's Liberal government would authorize police to test saliva samples from drivers and allow police to immediately suspend the licence of anyone driving with a trace of cannabis or illicit drugs for 90 days.
The measure goes a step further than Ontario's plan, which has proposed stiffer penalties for commercial drivers and those under 21 years of age who drive while under the influence of cannabis.
Polls show Quebeckers are more uneasy than most Canadians with legalized marijuana. On Wednesday, the Quebec government asked Ottawa to extend the July 1, 2018, deadline for legalization. The unveiling of Bill 172 on Thursday provided more evidence that the Quebec government would have preferred to avoid having to legalize cannabis.
"There are people who consume cannabis. We can't avoid it. We can't pretend it doesn't exist," said Quebec Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois, the Liberal in charge of the legalization file.
"The proposed measures aim to limit risk and mischief linked to abuse of this substance and to fight the trivialization of this product. We will be prudent and restrictive from the start."
While Ottawa's federal draft legislation legalizing marijuana would allow people to grow small amounts, Quebec will continue to outlaw growing pot at home. Enforcing allowable sizes and limits would be a nightmare, the minister said.
A government agency, the Société québécoise du cannabis, will have exclusive legal control of recreational use, selling the product through a limited number of storefronts and online. The province will have 15 stores ready by July 1 and up to 150 in two years.
Quebec hasn't had a proliferation of pot dispensaries like British Columbia and Ontario, where scores of storefronts have popped up in recent years, making conflict with small-business owners less likely. Head shops will still be allowed to sell accessories, but not pot.
The Opposition criticized the Quebec government for going slowly to introduce its plan and then attempting to rush it through the National Assembly by Christmas. The plan does not specify price or permissible levels of THC – the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
"I can tell you the Hells Angels aren't worried, faced with a government so ill-prepared and unable to give us elementary numbers," said Nicolas Marceau, the Parti Québécois finance critic, referring to the outlaw gang's role in black-market drug sales.
The conservative third party Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which recently pushed past the Liberals in the polls, said the amounts are too large and the entire framework is too lax.
The Quebec law would set the legal age at 18 and allow individuals to transport up to 30 grams at a time and hold 150 grams at home. The CAQ wants the legal age to be 21 and for the amounts to be lower. The party would like cannabis banned from parks.
"This plan is too permissive and too timid," said Simon Jolin-Barrette, the CAQ justice critic. "We would like the government to be more restrictive and will propose amendments accordingly."
Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said discussions haven't even begun with Ottawa over how it will share excise tax on cannabis. The government also said permissible levels of THC will come in regulations. The minister also said it's too early to say how prices will be set.
Quebec's draft law will restrict smoking marijuana to places where smoking cigarettes is legal, mainly in private dwellings and in designated outdoor areas. It additionally bans marijuana consumption on school and university campuses.
The Quebec plan for testing drivers involves a saliva test that still hasn't been approved by Ottawa. Transport Minister André Fortin says the province is counting on Ottawa having a testing regime in place soon.