QUEBEC — Mayor Valérie Plante is calling on the Quebec government to exempt Montreal from rules tightening the consumption of cannabis because she says they do not reflect the city’s reality or budget.

But the Coalition Avenir Québec government minister in charge of pot does not appear willing to make many fundamental changes to his plan, which, among other things, will make it much harder to smoke in public places and increase the legal age to consume from 18 to 21.

“We aren’t backing away, this is clear,” Lionel Carmant told reporters Tuesday at the National Assembly. “What we want to do is reduce consumption among youth, and allowing people to smoke in public risks increasing (their use of pot).

Asked if groups are wasting their time in appearing before a committee examining the CAQ’s legislation, Bill 2, Carmant insisted he is listening.

“Who says I’m not ready to backtrack on anything?” Carmant said.

His comments came just a few hours before Plante and Montreal police chief Sylvain Caron presented a brief to the committee, tearing the bill to shreds.

Plante opened the presentation saying the existing legislation — adopted by the previous Liberal government — responds to Montreal’s reality perfectly, while the CAQ’s new rules do not.

Unlike the old law, which left most of the decisions up to individual cities (you also could not smoke in areas where the consumption of tobacco was not allowed, such as bars and restaurants), the new bill imposes a blanket provincial ban on smoking in public, including in parks and festivals.

That is a direct violation of the principle of municipal autonomy, Plante told the committee, requesting Montreal to be exempted from these restrictions.

The brief says while it may be easy to enforce such rules in less dense areas with single-family homes, in Montreal 60 per cent of residents are renters, many of whom are young and more likely to use cannabis.

Landlords already have the power to ban renters from smoking, which means there are very few places left to consume, the brief says. And a greatly expanded list of places where people cannot consume entails increased costs and logistical problems for police, as they get the job of enforcing the wider ban.

“Montreal’s limited police resources must be used mainly to ensure the security of citizens,” the brief says.

The government’s response to the criticism has been to say Quebec has the right to set its own regulations. Instead of complaining there are too few legal places to smoke, Carmant says, people should consume edible cannabis.

Montreal also told the committee it opposes the clause of the bill that proposes to increase the legal age for consumption from 18 to 21.

Noting studies that show about 40 per cent of the population age 15 to 24 consumed cannabis in the last year, Montreal says increasing the age to 21 “excludes this age group from the legal market,” which means they will buy on the unregulated black market.

Montreal was not alone in complaining about the bill. In a separate brief, the Union des municipalités du Québec, which represents 360 municipalities, also called on the government to back off and respect municipal autonomy.

It said Quebec should leave them the power to decide the public areas, streets, sidewalks and parks where people are allowed to smoke.

Earlier, a coalition working under the umbrella of the Association pour la santé publique du Québec challenged Carmant’s argument that the age to consume must be increased to protect young developing brains.

The coalition told the committee there is no real scientific proof backing the minister’s views.

The Quebec Bar Association also released a statement saying the law could face a constitutional challenge invoking age discrimination because the legal age to smoke and drink is 18.

The committee is in its second week of examining the bill. It got off to a rough start, with many groups cancelling their appearances or saying the government didn’t give them enough time to prepare.

The opposition has already criticized the committee’s work, describing the hearings as “bogus” because they say it’s clear the minister has no intention of changing his mind on anything in the bill.

They have also accused him of trying to limit the number of groups opposed to the bill from being heard.

In question period Tuesday, Liberal public health critic André Fortin returned to the theme, describing the committee as nothing more than a public-relations exercise for the minister.

“Groups coming here have a better chance of getting sunburn (in the Quebec City winter) than of convincing the minister to change his bill,” Fortin fired across the floor at Carmant. “Will he listen to people or continue with this masquerade?”

Source: Montreal Gazette