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Part of Cannabis and consumers

When the Senate adopted the Liberal government’s bill legalizing marijuana in June, Quebec Conservative MP Alain Rayes called it “a dark day for Canada.”

Most Canadians, even those cool to legalization, do not share that grim sentiment. But in his home province, Mr. Rayes is no outlier. Survey after survey has shown that Quebeckers are much more likely than Canadians outside the province to oppose the legalization of marijuana, think nothing positive will come of legal cannabis and doubt Ottawa can eradicate the black market. Legendarily liberal Quebec, it turns out, is perfectly prudish when it comes to pot.

“It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana — and for criminals to reap the profits,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted after Bill C-45 passed in the Senate on June 19. “Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate. #PromiseKept”

Despite the self-congratulatory tone of Mr. Trudeau’s tweet, this is one promise kept that threatens to haunt the Liberals in Quebec. Indeed, Bill C-45’s passage came on the heels of the Conservatives’ June 18 by-election victory in Chicoutimi-Le Fjord. While the Tories had a star candidate in former junior hockey coach Richard Martel, the party also scored points by highlighting its opposition to the Liberals’ unpopular (in the region) plan to legalize pot.

“Justin Trudeau did this on his own,” Mr. Rayes said after Bill C-45′s passage. “He ignored the recommendations of the Senate, the point of view of the provinces and the concerns of health experts, public security officials, municipalities and the population.”

In and of itself, the Oct. 17 legalization of marijuana is unlikely to be a make-or-break issue for the Liberals in the 2019 election. But if the roll-out of legal cannabis is less than smooth, it’s more likely to cause the Liberals political damage in Quebec than elsewhere. The Conservatives already hold most ridings outside Quebec where attitudes toward legalization are the least favourable. But Chicoutimi-Le Fjord is representative of several current Liberal, NDP or Bloc Québécois ridings in the province that could be within the Conservatives’ reach in 2019.

Last week, Toronto-based Environics Analytics released data showing that 39 per cent of Quebeckers support the legalization of marijuana, compared with 53 per cent of Canadians outside the province. Only 32 per cent of Quebeckers consider marijuana usage to be socially acceptable, compared with the 46 per cent of other Canadians. Quebec is the only region where cigarettes are deemed more socially acceptable than joints.

The Environics survey found that 13 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec had consumed marijuana in the previous month, compared with 7.4 per cent of Quebeckers. The findings jibe with Statistics Canada data released earlier this year showing that 10 per cent of Quebeckers had used cannabis in the previous three months, compared with 14 per cent nationally and in Ontario, 17 per cent in British Columbia and Alberta and 20 per cent in Nova Scotia.

The divide between Quebec and the rest of Canada was also underscored in a survey conducted last year for Radio-Canada by the CROP polling firm. While 58 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec favoured legalizing marijuana, fully 54 per cent of Quebeckers were against it. A third of Quebeckers were “strongly opposed” to legalization, compared with only one-fifth of other Canadians, according to the CROP poll.

Why the gap? CROP analyst Alain Giguère suggested in La Presse that, while Quebeckers have a reputation for being more hedonistic than other Canadians, they don’t think having fun should come at the expense of one’s health. But that is a less than satisfying explanation.

Besides, young Quebeckers largely share the same views on marijuana as other Canadians. But for middle-aged and older francophone Quebeckers, the strictures of the culturally Catholic society they grew up in may continue to shape attitudes. The violent legacy of the 1990s motorcycle gang wars for control of the Quebec drug trade may also have contributed to negative attitudes toward marijuana and its effect on communities. Others have suggested that the banalization of marijuana use in American popular culture, and its legalization in a handful of U.S. states, is responsible for more laissez-faire attitudes outside Quebec.

So, while Mr. Trudeau was touting his “promise kept,” Quebec’s Liberal government was passing provincial legislation that prohibits growing pot at home. The feds' Bill C-45 allows Canadians to cultivate up to four marijuana plants for personal use, setting up a clash in court over Quebec’s new law.

Legal experts doubt Quebec’s law can or will be enforced, anyway. Its passage was a mostly symbolic gesture underscoring that, when it comes to pot, Quebeckers are distinctly prudish.

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