Buying cannabis in Quebec will require a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a directive issued by the province’s government last week. Health Minister Christian Dubé announced on January 6 that customers purchasing marijuana at government-funded stores must show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. The health minister said that an effective date for the vaccine mandate to purchase cannabis would be determined by government officials once all citizens have had a chance to receive a third shot of the vaccine. Dubé encouraged those who would be affected by the measure to roll up their sleeves and get the shot.
“If the unvaccinated aren’t happy with this situation, there is a very simple solution at your disposal,” Dubé said at a press conference covered by Fox Business. “It is to get vaccinated. It’s free. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, stay home.”
Quebec Rolling Out Vaccine Passport System
The new directive expands a vaccine passport system that requires three shots. Currently, those aged 50 and older can access a booster shot by the government, which plans to expand eligibility for boosters to all adults as soon as next week.
The vaccine mandate for cannabis applies to government-funded or state-owned businesses known as crown corporations that sell marijuana or alcohol. According to a report from CTV Montreal, Yann Langlais Plante, a spokesperson for the Société des alcohols du Québec (SAQ), told reporters that the organization’s retailers would enforce the new vaccine requirement “as we have done with all other efforts deployed since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Dubé’s comments were similar to those made by French President Emmanuel Macron only two days earlier. In an interview, Macron said that he wanted to make life as difficult as possible for those who still have not received the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I really want to piss them off, and we’ll carry on doing this—to the end,” Macron told the newspaper Le Parisien on January 4, as translated by the BBC.
The French president added that the government would not resort to harsher measures, such as forced vaccinations or arrests, but access to public places would be limited for the unvaccinated later this month.
“I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison,” he said. “So we need to tell them, from 15 January, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.”
Opposition Says Quebec Government Has ‘Lost Control’
Quebec opposition leader Dominique Anglade of the Liberal Party said that the administration of the province’s premier, François Legault, was making decisions based on politics instead of science and argued that the government has “lost control.”
“All of this is creating a lot of anxiety in the population, and François Legault is nowhere to be seen this week,” Anglade said after Legault failed to attend a press conference last week.
François Vincent, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s vice-president for Quebec, is against expanding the vaccine passport system to include additional retail businesses. He noted that companies already facing personnel shortages and difficulties hiring would bear the brunt of enforcing the vaccine mandate.
“The strategy is to get people to get vaccinated, but you’re asking the private sector to do the job without giving them the tools,” Vincent said.
Despite the pushback, Cheryl Milne, a constitutional lawyer and executive director of the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the University of Toronto, said that the vaccine requirements would likely survive any potential challenges on legal grounds. She noted that buying cannabis in Quebec would still be available to the unvaccinated from privately-owned retailers that are not required to enforce the mandate.
“Obviously, they’re thinking they need to step up pressure on people who are refusing to be vaccinated,” Milne said. “It’s untested at this point, but so far the courts, when looking at vaccine mandates or restrictions on liberty rights such as travel, have mostly sided with the provinces, who are trying to ensure vaccine compliance or public health measures to stop the spread of the virus.”
Amir Attaran, a professor with both the faculty of law and the school of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, agreed with Milne, noting that there are no laws preventing the Canadian government from requiring most members of the public to be vaccinated.
“The governments in Canada have yet to lose a lawsuit” about vaccine mandates, Attaran noted. “As long as they set up a mechanism whereby persons having a medical or religious reason not to vaccinate are accorded reasonable exemptions, then they’ve demonstrated fundamental justice.”