Quebec enlists SAQ in cannabis plan

The government plans to have 15 stores open by July 1, which will be run by a new subsidiary of the alcohol board.

Quebec is the latest province to outline its plan for the sale and distribution of cannabis.

Yesterday, Lucie Charlebois, Quebec’s minister for rehabilitation, youth protection, public health and healthy living, introduced Bill 157, which would establish the Société québécoise du cannabis (or SQC) to handle cannabis retail in the province. That will include both physical retail outlets and online sales.

Much like in other provinces, the new cannabis company will be a subsidiary of Quebec’s Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), which handles alcohol sales and distribution in the province.

The government plans to have 15 stores open in time for legalization on July 1 and 150 by 2020. By comparison, Ontario plans to have 40 stores operational by July 1, while New Brunswick – which has a population less a tenth the size of Quebec – plans to have 20 operational by next year.

The minimum age for buying cannabis would be set at 18. The most a person could carry on their person would be 30 grams, and would be allowed to hold 150 grams at home.

Other provisions in the bill are much stricter than those announced by other provinces thus far. The bill would outlaw the growing of plants in the home – the federal suggestion was to allow a maximum of four plants – and have a zero-tolerance policy for drivers, giving police the authority to suspend licenses for 90 days of drivers with any trace of cannabis in their saliva.

While premiers of each province have previously expressed concern over the amount of time given to them to prepare for legalization, Quebec’s government has been the most vocal. On Wednesday, the government formally asked the federal government to extend the legalization date, while Charlebois and other ministers have categorized the need for Bill 157 as something of a necessary evil.

“Do I like drugs? No,” Charlebois said in the legislature yesterday. “Do we need to act? Yes. Unfortunately they are a reality we have to deal with and which we cannot ignore.”

Hydropothecary, the only licensed cannabis producer operating in Quebec, released a statement yesterday expressing its support of Bill 157.

“Our initial review has identified positives in the legislation, such as the protection of public health and safety, online sales, and retail pilot projects,” said Sébastien St-Louis, CEO and co-founder. “These measures will make it possible to offer access to quality-controlled legal cannabis products at competitive prices.”