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Don’t let them eat cake: Quebec takes the high road with recherché edibles 

David Hollander

Quebec Premier François Legault’s solution to any problem is to cap and contain. French kids want to go to Dawson. Does he decree a French-language CEGEP be modelled after the popular junior college, or that French CEGEPs beef up their English departments so there’s no need to cross over? No, he caps enrolment at all English CEGEPs. Problem solved, case closed. CAQ promises Quebec City a third link to the South Shore, then reneges on the pledge once safely returned to power. CAQ is defeated in a Quebec City byelection. Subsequent polls find Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon is the politician with whom most voters want to share a cinq à sept. What is Legault to do? Why, double the tuition for out-of-province Canadian students, of course, kneecapping the minority’s universities and re-establishing himself as top cop.

Legault outdid himself with the SQDC, the province’s cannabis agency. Legend has it a coughing fit at a brainstorming session in a smoky back room during the lead-up to the 2018 election inspired the party elite to pledge to hike the minimum age for weed consumption to 21, billing it as a move to preserve late-adolescent brains. Regardless that youth age 18 to 24 are Canada’s largest consumers of marijuana, longtime masters of the black market, and retention of half the lucrative tranche would sustain the skeletal criminal networks. Our older teens would be allowed to buy alcohol and tobacco and be expected to charge the cliffs at Dieppe but forbidden a puff of pot. CAQ won the election in a landslide, and the policy became sacred: Cannabis initiatives from Ottawa were to be aggressively tightened up. When edibles became legal in 2019, Quebec delayed introducing them for close to three years while drawing up its own legislation. Again, the move was made in the name of youth, this time toddlers. Pharmacies and hardware stores contain thousands of attractively packaged items that would fell a child on the spot, but there is no effort to regulate these enterprises or protect children from their wares. On the weed front, however, infusion with cannabis was forbidden for any item those under 21 might fancy, i.e., everything that tastes good. Sweets, confectionaries, desserts and chocolates are out; on the menu is the stuff not even Maman could make you eat: beets, cauliflower, figs, apricot with Japanese mushrooms, chicken-flavoured ramen and “jerky de boeuf,” at about twice the price for an equivalent buzz in the rest of Canada. The price of dried flowers in Quebec, however, is attractively low.

Many were mystified by Donald Trump’s slogan, Make America Great Again. To what golden age was he referring? Trump didn’t have to specify; to a MAGA man, any era in which women and minorities knew their place would do just fine. Conservatives are pleased by all attempts to stop the clock or turn it back to whenever. So, too, it was to the past Quebec looked when creating the SQDC retail outlets. Steve Jobs conjured up the future when designing the Apple stores from scratch, thereby revolutionizing retail, but the province instead resurrected the Liquor Commissions of the mid-20th century, re-creating period outlets designed to discourage patronage and consumption of alcohol. It’s all there, except for the wire dividers (they’re now plexiglass) and grey-flannel suits: The security guards demanding ID at the gate; the drab, sobering interior; the sales clerks and counter standing between customer and product, which is never seen and cannot be touched, brown paper bags replacing the brown paper wrap of la Grande Noirceur. Customers wrote their order on paper slips in the 1950s; today’s older anglos often bring the nostalgia full circle by submitting cannabis requests on paper lest they raise eyebrows with French accents honed in Beaconsfield. In some ways the shops have regressed beyond the 1950s Liquor Commissions: Children were permitted to accompany their parents on alcohol buying excursions, but today they must be left with the panhandlers at the door. The SQDC, like the early versions of SAQ, has no mandate to encourage consumption, and this shows up in a variety of ways. Crack a dope joke worthy of Cheech & Chong and you’ll get a stone face from an otherwise amicable clerk. In 2018 the agency produced a well-researched, glossy four-page warning on the dangers of combining cannabis and alcohol in a brochure that failed to mention you’d be well-advised to toke before having a drink rather than vice-versa. How many novices have since found themselves with their arms wrapped around a toilet bowl? One sentence would have done it: “Smoke before you drink, then imbibe as the effects are wearing off, and you’ll be unlikely to get sick.” Helpful advice on the order of consumption was no doubt deemed an advocacy of consumption and thus in violation of the agency’s neutral stance.

Quebec’s immediate neighbours shed light on its all-enveloping statism. Private-sector Ontario, with 1,500 weed stores servicing 14.5 million people, has averaged 22 visits per month to emergency departments by children under 10 since edibles were introduced, triple what it saw in its Quebec-style dried-flowers-and-oils-only phase. There have been no deaths, while dozens of all ages succumb to chronic respiratory diseases. Long-term effects of smoking hemp are similar to those of tobacco: bronchitis, lung infections, chronic cough and mucus buildup. Because the smoke is inhaled deeper and held longer, a joint deposits in the lungs four times as much tar as a cigarette. So, assuming Quebec adults are as irresponsible as their counterparts in Ontario, while Legault might indeed be sparing 12 children a month a trip to the hospital, his policy channels everyone toward getting high by the method most dangerous to health.

There is attitude as well as numbers. New Brunswick, like Quebec, has a government monopoly on weed sales but has not politicized its agency as an electoral ploy and has sanctioned appetizing edibles. A spin along the Trans-Canada Highway from Edmundston to Moncton turns up a string of cannabis shops close to the highway, nicely situated in commercial zones besides Tim Hortons and McDonald’s. The shops are convenient, the signage clear, and there are displays throughout the stores attractively showcasing product. The feel is Fredericton commercial, not Roman ecclesiastical. Nineteen-year-old customers nod hello, amused at visitors from a Land to the West Where the Gummie Is Proscribed. Sales clerks are friendly, as they are in Quebec, but also unabashed, unapologetic. Not having to sell Infused Dry Figs will do that for you.


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