Convenience Central
Join our community
extra content

C-stores shouldn’t be responsible for policing mask rules: CICC



The Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) is speaking out against the decision of some provinces and municipalities to make retailers liable for customers’ refusal to wear face masks.

“The first priority of the small business operators we represent is the health and safety of our employees and our customers. Convenience retailers have continually made their best efforts to ensure that customers and staff comply with all public health orders, including the increasing number of mandatory face mask requirements being implemented across the country,” said Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the CICC.

Quebec is the first province to make mask-wearing mandatory in all public spaces, including retail stores, as of July 18, 2020. Businesses will be expected to enforce the new rules and are subject to fines of between $400 and $6,000 if their customers are caught violating the health directive.

Several municipalities across Ontario, including Toronto, are also making mask mandatory and putting the onus on retailers to enforce compliance or refuse service. Those who are not in compliance risk fines.

The move unfairly places the ultimate responsibility for customer compliance on small business owners, who not also face financial penalties, but, as is surfacing in several media report, physical and verbal abuse from some customers who refuse to comply.

“Individual retailers should not be held liable for customers’ refusal to comply with public health orders,” said Kothawala. “Convenience retailers should be required to ensure that they have a policy in place, that the policy is communicated to all staff and customers, and that their best efforts to ensure compliance have been made, but ultimately it should be an individual’s responsibility to comply with the law.”

Some people, including children under 12 and those with certain medical conditions, are not required to wear masks, but how is a retailer or small business owner expected to know who falls into this category?

“Given the variety of human rights exemptions to this policy that exist, and the inability of retailers to demand proof of exemption, it is unreasonable to expect customer service staff to perform the duties of the police or risk significant fines,” says Kothawala, adding that operators and staff are risk of abuse if they are forced to confront shoppers not wearing masks. “We have a responsibility to protect our employees and customers from these types of altercations. Our role should be to de-escalate these situations, not to play part-time police.”


Quebec makes masks mandatory in public indoor spaces starting Saturday



Quebec has become the first Canadian province to make mask-wearing mandatory in all indoor public places for people aged 12 years and older.
Premier Francois Legault said the new directive enters into effect Saturday – just in time for the province’s annual construction holiday.
Businesses will be expected to enforce the new rules and are subject to fines of between $400 and $6,000 if their customers are caught violating the health directive, Legault told reporters Monday in Montreal.
He said the government is considering imposing fines on individuals beginning in August. People who for medical reasons cannot wear masks are exempt from the new rule, Legault added.
The premier said his government held off making mask-wearing indoors mandatory until now because it wanted to impose restrictions on Quebecers gradually. The new rules enter into effect July 18, at the beginning of the two-week construction holiday, during which Quebecers are expected to travel around the province with their families.
“It’s easier to wear a mask than to return to being confined,” Legault said, adding the province has seen a slight increase in the number of daily new COVID-19 cases.
“I know it’s summer,” he said. “It’s holidays. It’s not fun to wear a mask, but it’s essential to avoid going backwards.”
Quebec reported 100 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, as well as one additional death. That brings the province’s total deaths to 5,628, while infections reached 56,621. Hospitalizations declined by one to 305, with 21 people in intensive care.
Legault said the new rule applies in all indoor settings across the province, including restaurants – but only when patrons are moving around.
“When we are sitting down, when we are at a table, we can take it off,” he said. “But when we get up to use the bathroom or to leave, we put it back on.”
Groups representing business owners raised concerns about the responsibility of enforcing the measure, suggesting it places an additional burden on retailers who are already struggling.
In a statement, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that while business owners respect the need to limit a second wave of the pandemic, “public health is a shared responsibility.”
“To ask a small business to be entirely responsible for consumer actions, which are beyond its reasonable control, and to impose fines doesn’t seem very equitable,” said Gopinath Jeyabalaratnam, a policy analyst for the group.
The Conseil du Patronat du Quebec, which represents employers, said responsibility should be shared between clients and business owners, and called on the government to emphasize education rather than fines.
Legault said it was necessary to rely on businesses because “police cannot be in all the shops at the same time.” He said enforcement would likely begin with warnings and progress to fines.
As for retail or restaurant workers who are confronted with recalcitrant customers, Legault said they should call police.
On Monday, mask-wearing also became mandatory inside public transit across the province. At the entrance to Montreal’s St-Laurent subway station, however, there was little evidence anything had changed.
Around noon, there were no employees or prominent signs indicating the new rules as transit users, some wearing masks and some not, came in and out through the turnstiles.
Masks were more in evidence as rush hour began, and an announcement could be heard over the loudspeaker informing transit users of the measure.
The province has granted transit users a two-week grace period before people can be denied boarding for failing to wear a face covering. Legault said he expected a similar period would also be granted to allow the public to get used to the wider rule before fines are imposed.

Photos by Justin LaPierre

Socially connected: Dépanneur R. Prud’homme

Located on the edge of Quebec’s vast wilderness, Dépanneur R. Prud’homme combines a modern approach with small-town charm

How is it that a family-owned convenience store and gas station in a remote corner of Quebec has generated more than 40,000 followers on its Facebook page, making it by far the most popular dépanneur on social media in la belle province?

“I think it reflects the quality of our store and products and the way we treat our employees and customers,” says Vicky Beauséjour, who helps run Dépanneur R. Prud’homme, a family business owned and operated by her parents, Éric Beauséjour and Nathalie Richard.

Photos by Justin LaPierre

Photos by Justin LaPierre

Located in the small town of Saint-Michel-des-Saints, a two-hour drive north of Montreal at the end of a provincial highway, the store, which operates under the Beau-soir banner, is the last place where cottage- and camping-bound tourists can buy food, gas and other c-store items before entering Quebec’s vast wilderness.

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 12.25.20 PM“Don’t think that because we’re in a remote community this is a sleepy, backwoods business,” 25-year-old Vicky told Convenience Store News Canada during a recent phone interview.  “We have a modern, big-city store with friendly, small-town charm.”

Built and opened in the fall of 2017 (next to the now-demolished, decades-old general store that the Beauséjours bought in 2012), the store features the same menu of homemade traditional and fast food items—everything from chicken pie and ragout to pizza and poutine, eaten on premise or takeout—that earned the original store local fame.

It also stocks a growing variety of specialty local food products, including craft beer, wine, dairy and charcuterie, as well as modern ready-to-eat and made-to-order items that span healthy snacks, breakfast sandwiches, daily lunch specials and meals.

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 12.51.16 PMScreen Shot 2020-05-14 at 12.51.35 PMAll are made fresh daily in the big kitchen, where most of the store’s 15 full-time employees work under the supervision of Richard, a trained chef who also runs a local catering service. During the pandemic, the c-store used social media to keep customers in the loop about daily specials and encouraged people to preorder, while also offering delivery. 

The store’s foodservice offering has expanded to include a well-stocked salad bar, which Vicky says was added at customers’ bequest: “We’re glad we did because it’s very popular.”

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 12.25.07 PMAnother popular feature—one that has been a game changer for the family’s business—is the Esso gas station.  “Adding gas was big because it made us a one-stop destination for both locals and tourists,” says Vicky, a new mom who works throughout the store, often alongside her fiancé, Marc-André Soulière.  “Now people don’t have to run around to different stores to find things. We’ve got it all here.”

While it was her mom who showed her how to cook as a young child, Vicky credits her dad, Éric, a former candy salesman who always dreamed of being a c-store owner, for her entrepreneurial zeal. “My dad’s like a big kid. He loves to be at the store meeting people and being involved in everything. I’m a lot like him.”  

They use the store’s Facebook page to actively promote the business and to post updates, like the closure of the store’s dining area during the COVID-19 crisis and the expansion of home delivery service.  

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 12.25.00 PM“We use social media a lot to announce our menus or promotions, like draws,” says Vicky.  She credits those postings—including several of customers posing with a skid of Budweiser cases made to look like a single case costing nearly $4,000 (part of a promotion by Labatt)—for generating both buzz and likes online.  

“We work hard to provide people with the things they want and need,” she adds. “ I think people understand and appreciate that.”

 Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 12.45.44 PM


Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 12.45.26 PM


Quebec government announces incentive for essential retail employees

Unknown-3In an effort to encourage retail employees to continue working, Quebec is offering an incentive for those in essential services, such as convenience, gas and grocery, which amounts to $100 a week for full-time and part-time workers.

The benefit, which will be paid out retroactively from March 15 for a maximum of 16 weeks, applies only to workers receiving gross wages of $550 or less per week and earning an annual amount between $5,000 and $28,600 for 2020.

The $890-million incentive program targets about 600,000 low-income earners and is designed to ensure that they receive a wage that exceeds what the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) would provide.

Workers will receive the taxable incentive, which amounts to about $1,600 over four months, in addition to their wages.

“The health and safety of essential workers is our priority during this period of general mobilization,” says Jean Boulet, minister of labour, employment and social solidarity. “We want them to be able to perform their duties with complete peace of mind and to receive the appropriate remuneration.”

Workers can apply on the Revenue Québec website starting May 19th. Payments will be made via direct deposit or cheque starting May 27th.


Quebec premier orders stores to close Sundays to give workers a break

C-stores and gas stations are exempt



In an attempt to give frontline retail workers a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, Quebec Premier Francois Legault on Monday ordered most of the stores still allowed to operate to close on Sundays during the month of April.

The premier gave his newest directive as the province reported its biggest one-day spike in confirmed COVID cases – 590 positive tests – bringing the provincial total to 3,430. Health authorities also confirmed three additional deaths compared with the day prior, for a total of 25.

Legault said he didn’t think closing big grocery stores for one day a week would put a strain on them during the six other days that they are open.

Quebec only permits businesses the province deems “essential” to remain open during the pandemic. Legault ordered all non-essential businesses closed until April 13. Shopping centres won’t open their doors until May 1.

“It will be an opportunity for our workers to get some rest,” Legault said. The only stores that can remain open seven days a week are convenience stores, pharmacies, gas stations and restaurant take-out counters.

Legault also called on people to leave masks and other protective equipment for those who need them the most.

Apart from rationing protective equipment, the province is looking at ways to wash and reuse them.

Health Minister Danielle McCann called for judicious use of masks as the province tries to procure more amid a world shortage. She has said there have been incidents of thefts at hospitals.

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 4.59.01 PM

Dépanneur Peluso carries 1,100 kinds of craft beers


Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 4.59.01 PMTony Peluso, owner of two specialized convenience stores in downtown Montreal (with a third store in the works) believes the key to his success is keeping up with the times.

“If you don’t follow and adapt to changes in your customers’ tastes and expectations you’re falling behind—simple as that,” he says from the office above Dépanneur Peluso, his original store in Montreal’s trendy Le Plateau district.  

“Same thing with retail practices.  When you walk into a Walmart you really get an idea on how to operate.”

It’s a lesson Peluso learned the hard way in the early years of a c-store career that spans four decades.

Born and raised in Montreal’s north end, where his parents settled after immigrating to Canada from Italy, Peluso grew up wanting to be a writer.

Instead, in 1979, with financial backing from their father, he and younger brother, Mario, opened a bakery in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal.

Three years later, the brothers closed the business and opened a convenience store in one of the two adjoining buildings their father owned on nearby Rachel Street.

“It was my idea,” recalls Peluso.  “In those days dépanneurs were going into baking bread, which helped to kill our bakery business.  So we opened our own c-store and set up a bakery and deli section in it.”

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 4.58.48 PMAffiliated from the get-go with Quebec’s Boni-Soir banner, which supplied groceries, beer and other c-store products, the 2,400-sq.-ft. store struggled to survive in an area replete with grocery stores, specialty food stores, cafés, coffee shops and rival dépanneurs.

Peluso’s brother exited after a year, leaving him and a lone employee to operate the store every day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“The business was not doing well and I was advised to go bankrupt,” says Peluso.  “But, I said no, I was determined to make it work.”

In addition to negotiating deferred payments from suppliers of up to 90 days, Peluso got deals from the two brewery behemoths of the day—Labatt and Molson—on 12- and 24-bottle cases of beer.

“That really helped because this is a residential area with lots of young renters,” says Peluso.  “And I’m one of the only stores in Le Plateau with a parking lot. That’s a big advantage.”

As sales picked up, Pelusso started hiring more staff.  He also found time to get married and have a daughter, Julia, now 17.

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 4.59.44 PMBusiness really started booming when Peluso followed the advice of an employee, who was convinced craft beer was poised to be the next big thing.  

“I started contacting all the microbrewers in Quebec and adding their products,” said Peluso.

He also spent months visiting government-run liquor stores to see how they merchandised wine.  “I did the same thing here with beer,” says Peluso. “That really opened my eyes on how to run a business (and) helped get me out of my slump.”

Craft beer sales proved so popular that Peluso expanded into the adjoining building—adding another 2,400 sq. ft.—and made it into a beer store.

Today the store carries 1,100 kinds of craft beers from 100-plus Quebec microbreweries (including non-alcoholic brands, which Peluso says are becoming increasingly popular), plus full lines of domestic beer and some imported ones.  

“I’m very proud of that,” says Peluso, who plugs his vast craft beer selection with regular updates on social media.  “It’s our trademark.”

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 4.59.22 PMPeluso is equally enthused by the success of a second store he opened on Beaubien Street in Montreal’s Little Italy district in 2016.

The aptly named Péluso Beaubien is as much a small specialty grocery store as it is a c-store, selling fine meats, cheeses and charcuterie, in addition to Quebec-made beers, wine and cider.

The store also has a kitchen, a sit-down counter and a chef, who creates a weekly menu that features hot and cold food items. 

“I knew the area was going to be important for me because the Italians there were getting older and were moving out and millennials were moving in,” says Peluso, whose stores employ 36 people and are managed by Pierre-Luc Gagnon.

Peluso is now planning to open a 6,000-sq.-ft. store in Le Plateau, where he can add Quebec ciders and wines, which he says are becoming increasingly popular.

“I don’t have the space at the old store to add them,” says 59-year-old Peluso, adding the new store will be his last project. “I’m going to own it but not operate it. I’ll leave that to others.”

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 5.04.27 PM

Screen Shot 2020-02-11 at 11.51.17 AM

INS Market ramps up expansion in Quebec

INS MarketScreen Shot 2020-02-11 at 11.51.54 AM is expanding its convenience concept in Quebec.

Founded in 1994 as International News, the Canadian company has evolved into a convenience retailer, offering tobacco, newspapers, magazines, lottery, beverages, better-for-you snacks and confectionery.

In addition, INS offers books, transit tickets, souvenirs, health and beauty products, greeting cards, telephone cards, postal supplies, office supplies, flowers, mobile devices and accessories. Some stores also features a Western Union, ATM, postal outlet and dry cleaning depot.

With 200 stores in Canada and the United States, the company dubs itself as “the most modern instant gratification store in the market.”

As the company expands, its mantra is simple: “We go where the customers go.” This involves “aggressive expansion” across Quebec. INS stores (kiosks and inline spaces) can be found in high-traffic areas, such as busy urban streets, office buildings, public transit venues and shopping centres, as well as hospitals, colleges and universities.


Quebec to expand deposit system to cover all drink containers by 2022

Quebec will expand its deposit system to include different kinds of alcohol and beverage containers in an effort to recycle more products and reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

The province announced its plan Thursday – set to begin by late 2022 – that will see a deposit charged to a wide variety of containers ranging in size from 100 millilitres to two litres, whether the bottles are made of plastic, glass or metal.

The government intends for a simple system that shouldn’t require too much of consumers to change their habits, with an estimated 400 privately run drop-off points, said Environment Minister Benoit Charrette.

“In one depot or one store, where the technology will be available, they will be able to bring back all their materials,” Charrette said in St-Sauveur, Que., where the Coalition Avenir Quebec are holding a caucus meeting.

“We want the system as simple of possible because we need results, and the industry has a lot of interest to put in place a simple system because they will have to respect some specific goals as soon as 2025.”

The plan is to charge 25 cents for wine and spirits bottles and 10 cents for other bottles, including plastic water bottles, fruit juices and milk jugs.

Officials project more than four billion containers will be returned annually, including more than one billion plastic water bottles.

Recyc-Quebec, a government corporation, will oversee the implementation of the new returnable container recovery system, but the companies that market the containers will have to present a deposit management plan within a year.

Quebec will aim to recover and recycle 75% of returnable containers by 2025 and 90% by 2030, with the government establishing targets and penalties if they’re not reached.

The announcement was applauded by environmental groups including Equiterre, which said the expansion of the system make sense for environmental, social and economic reasons.

“As we seek to move towards a circular economy, a deposit refund system helps us view used containers as resources rather than waste,” said executive director Colleen Thorpe. “By transforming perceptions and habits, we can help reintegrate these items into the manufacturing cycle by sorting at the source, which in turn makes these resources more valuable.”

Greenpeace Canada said beer bottle collection has shown to be beneficial and welcome the plan, but the group urged the Legault government to fight against single-use plastic and seek more ambitious measures like banning water bottles.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has repeatedly raised concerns about expanding the deposit system, said it believes curbside recycling already in place is the best for recovering single-use beverage containers, though it will participate in the design of the new system.

The Quebec Union of Municipalities applauded the measure but urged a reform of the entire recovery and recycling system in Quebec, with a focus on making producers responsible.

It also expressed support for the province as it navigates a waste-management crisis involving collection and sorting services affecting 26 municipalities.

Groupe RSC, a subsidiary of French firm TIRU, announced it would be pulling out of operations in four plants it operates across the province – two in the Montreal area, one in Chateauguay and another in Saguenay – “due to the collapse of the world market for recycled paper.”

The company has said it has encountered “great difficulties linked to the economic model of its sorting centres” with financial losses in recent years.

The Quebec government said this week the facilities will maintain operations in the short term until new operators can be found.



Photos: Chantale Lecours

Crevier Group’s new wash site in Beloeil, Que. offers efficiency and quality

Not long after he was named VP of Crevier Group’s fuel division in early 2018, Jean-Claude Clément was tasked with choosing a vehicle car wash system for the company’s showcase service station off exit 112 on Highway 20 in Beloeil, Que., a 20-minute drive east of Montreal.

“To make such a decision you need to consider many things to make sure the system you choose is right for the business,” says Clément. “You need to look at the area and market profile, the type of traffic and the location.”

Crevier Group operates 220 service stations across Quebec and distributes petroleum products, notably Chevron, in seven Canadian provinces.

Photos: Chantale Lecours

Photos: Chantale Lecours

In the end, Clément opted for a touchless LaserWash 360 Plus from PDQ for the company’s new Beloeil site, a system he became familiar with during the 22 years he spent building and running Pétro-T’s network of 150 service stations across Quebec. 

“I’d bought several earlier generations of that model and they always worked well,” recalls Clément, who left Pétro-T in 2015.“It’s a reliable car wash that we thought offered the right mix of efficiency and quality for the Beloeil site.”  

Impressive development

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 12.58.28 PMIn operation since July 2019, the new car wash and four-island gas bar are part of an ambitious plan by local promoters to develop the entire 1-million-sq.-ft. site into a multi-functional commercial, entertainment and residential oasis within commuting distance of downtown Montreal.


Dubbed the Faubourg du Richelieu, the $125-million project by Groupe Lobato involves the construction by 2021 of commercial and office space, a 100-room hotel and convention centre, a water park, a sports facility (including an indoor soccer field), residential condos and the project’s pièce de résistance—a marina on the historic Richelieu River. Deals have also been inked with Tim Hortons and A&W. To date, only the Crevier service station, a 99-slip marina and several condos are built on the land, which is still mostly greenfield.

However, work is to begin soon on 400 parking spaces conveniently located adjacent to the wash site. The spots are expected to be in heavy demand starting in January 2021 when Montreal’s Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine Bridge-Tunnel, which runs over and beneath the St. Lawrence River in the city’s east end, will close for repairs for one year.  

 “Commuter traffic on Highway 20 will be backed-up right to our door,” says Clément.  “I’m sure many people will decide to simply park their cars here and take the bus. Having 400 cars here every day will be good for our gas and wash business.”

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 12.58.18 PMThe Crevier service station is one of four that the company operates within a few kilometres of one another on both sides of the river. Of those sites, the Beloeil location is the only one with a convenience store and a universal fast charge superstation for electric vehicles (EV). 

The fast charging station is one of 10 that Crevier operates at service centres across Quebec in conjunction with Electric Circuit, Canada’s first public charging network for electric vehicles, which offers 240-volt and 400-volt charging stations in the parking lots of partners in Quebec and Eastern Ontario. Crevier’s Beloeil station is the first with rapid charge facilities, which recharge most cars to 80% in only 20 minutes.

 “EV is getting big in Quebec,” says Clement. “That’s why we are working to install them at every station in our network whenever we renovate or build new.”

Site meshes with business plan

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 12.58.40 PMClement says that Crevier was “in no rush” to build a car wash in the first phase of the Beloeil site—plans originally included the gas pumps and EV charging station, plus a well-stocked convenience store.

But, his hiring and being tasked with finding the right car wash system for the site dovetailed with Crevier’s increasing interest in the retail side of its service station network. “We used to be more focused on the sale of petroleum products,” says Clément.  “But our model has changed over the past four or five years.”

With the addition of the Beloeil car wash, Crevier now operates five automatic washes, including four in Quebec and one in the Eastern Ontario border town of Hawkesbury.  

They are all different makes and models and include both touch and touchless equipment. “We’ve got a bit of everything,” says Clément.

“We went for simplicity, we didn’t add any extra features or gadgets like Lava Baths or Armor All,” he says of installing the LaserWash 360 Plus at Beloeil.  “We went for a standard format where people can choose between three kinds of wash—regular wash, wash with wax and super wash, where we put three-colour foam on vehicles, which puts on a nice show.”

 In the spirit of keeping it simple, there are no apps; instead customers can pay at the pump or inside. 

 Clément suggests it is too early to know if Quebec’s famously cold and snowy winters—coupled with the notoriously strong winds that whip across Beloeil and its low-lying, farm-rich St. Lawrence Plain region—will be a problem for the new wash.

“Bad weather shouldn’t be a challenge,” says Clément. “Car washes are built for winters. The entrances and exits are heated, as are the cement pads, which are heated when electronic sensors detect a risk of freezing. Those heat-active systems should help to avoid any ice buildup.”

He expects the same solid performance from the new wash in Beloeil as the earlier generation models he installed years ago for Petro-T.  

“These are solidly constructed systems that respond to our needs, which are providing an acceptable wash at the best price/quality ratio for both purchase and operation,” says Clément.  “I’d make the same choice again today.”
Originally published in the November/December issue of Octane. 

Quebec raising legal age for cannabis to 21, the strictest in the country

cannabis_packages_frQuebecers under the age of 21 won’t be able to buy or possess recreational cannabis as of Wednesday, ushering in the toughest age restrictions in the country since pot was legalized 14 months ago.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government passed legislation in the fall that upped the legal age for accessing cannabis from 18, citing the impact of cannabis on young minds in deciding to act.

But policy experts suggest restricting legal access to the drug for the segment of the population most likely to use the drug will not have the intended effect.

Daniel Weinstock, director of the institute for health and social policy at McGill University, said it’s clear where the Quebec government is coming from, citing research that shows a risk factor for developing brains.

“The problem is the amount of cannabis that’s already present in the illegal market. We have to think long and hard about our ability to effectively enforce prohibition,” Weinstock said. “And if we can’t – and I strongly suspect we won’t be able to – … we risk finding ourselves in the worst of all possible situations.”

That situation would see 18 to 21 year olds _ armed with no information about the potency of what they’re consuming _ buying from illegal dealers and using contaminated, unregulated product.

A Universite de Montreal addictions researcher said perhaps a small minority of youth – those already deemed not at risk – might put off using cannabis because of the measure.

But Jean-Sebastien Fallu notes that when it was illegal, nearly half of Quebecers had tried cannabis once in their lifetime by 17.

“You have 50% who’d used once in their lifetime, despite the threat of criminalized prohibition,” Fallu said. “So I don’t think this (new rule) is going to have any significant impact on underage, minor or adolescent use.”

Weinstock said policy makers should understand a ban isn’t always the right choice, even if most parties agree the goal should be to moderate young people’s consumption.

“We really have to think about the second-best (option) – to give them access to a safe product,” he said.

The province’s junior health minister, Lionel Carmant, declined a request for an interview through his spokesperson. Carmant has said previously the stricter age rules were adopted with the idea of protecting the developing minds of young adults from cannabis.

But Fallu said he’s also concerned youth will be consuming illegal cannabis with no quality-control standards for levels of THC – the drug’s main psychoactive component.

The Quebec Cannabis Industry Association, which represents more than 25 of the province’s licensed growers, has raised concerns that the stricter rules go against the reasoning behind the federal government’s move toward legalization – improving public safety and getting rid of the black market.

While the federal law sets the minimum age at 18, it leaves it to the provinces and territories to establish their own rules. The legal age for consumption is 19 in every other province except Alberta, where it’s 18.

Given the legal age for drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco in Quebec remain at 18, the Quebec Bar Association has warned there could be constitutional challenges around the issue of age discrimination.

One constitutional lawyer called the law a “form of paternalism that is entirely unjustifiable in our society.”

“I think it’s absurd and I think it’s contrary to the charter, I think it’s discrimination as to age,” said Julius Grey. “It seems to me that it’s perfectly absurd to say that alcohol – which kills many more people than cannabis – is safe at 18, but cannabis is only at 21.”

Grey said it’s a strange situation whereby adulthood comes at 18, where one can be considered fully responsible for one’s acts, yet can’t access a legal product.

“Differential ages are not reasonable – you have to have an age of majority,” Grey said. “Once you become a full adult and you have the full responsibility for what you do, you should have free choice.”

Recreational marijuana use became legal across Canada on Oct. 17, 2018, but Quebec quickly adopted tougher provincial measures.

The province is one of two jurisdictions where home cultivation is forbidden, along with Manitoba. The province has announced it will appeal a provincial court decision that invalidated that provision after a judge ruled it infringed upon the jurisdiction of the federal government.

When Quebec passed its age restriction this year, it also banned public consumption of cannabis. It has also introduced the toughest restrictions for edibles, which are being phased into the market elsewhere in the country, by targeting anything that might appeal to children.

Weinstock said the approach may change, given legal cannabis remains relatively new.

“My hope is that as time goes by, the drug becomes normalized, we’ll be able to go to a series of evidence-based policies, rather than ones that are driven by fear and panic,” Weinstock said.