Manitoba is updating several pieces of legislation in anticipation of the federal legalization of marijuana.
On Monday, Justice Minister Heather Stefanson introduced a bill that would make it illegal to smoke pot in a public space or indoor workplace or make it illegal to consume marijuana inside a vehicle travelling on a street or road.
"We’re actually the only province across Canada that has brought forward this kind of legislation now to help deal with some of these safety and health issues. So we’re in front of this," she said.
"This bill will make changes that will make our roads safer, respect smoke-free places and ensure that, where appropriate, marijuana will continue to be treated as it is now in public schools and in mental-health and anti-exploitation laws," she told the legislature as she introduced the bill.
Bill 28 (the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act) would amend seven provincial laws, including the Highway Traffic Act.
It would allow for 24-hour licence suspensions if a police officer believes a driver is under the influence of the drug and unable to operate a vehicle safely.
Drivers in the graduated licence program could face further consequences if they receive a 24-hour suspension.
Cannabis would need to be stored in a secure compartment, such as a car’s trunk, so that it was inaccessible to people riding in a vehicle — similar to rules governing open liquor.
The Off-Road Vehicles Act would be amended to create similar transportation and consumption prohibitions for off-road vehicles as for those added for vehicles under the Highway Traffic Act.
The Mental Health Act would be amended to ensure residential patients who are not allowed to receive illicit drugs continue to be prohibited from obtaining marijuana.
The Public Schools Act would be clarified to ensure students using, possessing or being under the influence of marijuana while at school could still face disciplinary consequences even if the federal government legalizes pot.
As well, the Child Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking act would be amended to ensure the legislation continues to apply to individuals who use marijuana as a tool to exploit or traffic another person.
Since forming government last year, Premier Brian Pallister has repeatedly expressed concern about the effects of legalizing marijuana use, and he has urged Ottawa to proceed slowly.
Last week, Stefanson said she is "very concerned about the safety of Manitobans" in light of the anticipated federal initiative.
Stefanson said she is troubled by the results of a drug and alcohol roadside survey that found that one in 10 Manitobans tested positive for some form of drug. She noted that more than half of drivers with drugs in their systems in the Manitoba Public Insurance-sponsored survey tested positive for cannabis.
"I can’t predict what the federal bill is going to look like. All we can do is control what is in our purview and that’s exactly what we’ll do in this legislation," she told reporters last week.
NDP Justice critic Andrew Swan encouraged the provincial government to "work co-operatively" with the federal government as Ottawa rolls out its legislation — instead of continuing to pick fights with Ottawa.
He said he would be "very surprised" if the feds "simply imposed a new law" without giving the provinces time to react and respond to it.
"This may be the first bill of its kind; it may not be the best," he said of Bill 25 "Time will tell."
Meanwhile, MADD Canada said in a statement it supported any mechanism governments can put in place to reduce the threat of impaired driving.
"Manitoba’s legislation helps to send the message that driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous and unacceptable," said Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, in a statement contained in the government news release.