How Manitoba will handle legalized pot: A primer


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Participants in the annual 4/20 event at the Manitoba Legislative Building are likely to be in an even more celebratory mood this year as the federal Liberal government is poised to introduce legislation to make good on its promise to legalize pot.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/03/2017 (2192 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Participants in the annual 4/20 event at the Manitoba Legislative Building are likely to be in an even more celebratory mood this year as the federal Liberal government is poised to introduce legislation to make good on its promise to legalize pot.

The April 20 bash, which extols the consumption of cannabis — especially the smoking of it — may also have a more political undertone as local medical marijuana advocates protest a lack of consultation by the Pallister government before introducing a bill last week setting out new rules to deal with cannabis when legalization occurs.

Over the weekend, the CBC reported that Ottawa is to introduce legislation the week of April 10 that would see cannabis legalized in Canada by July 1, 2018. The feds would license producers and ensure the country’s marijuana supply is safe, while the provinces would decide how products are distributed and sold.

Medical marijuana users are upset that Bill 25 (The Cannabis Harm Prevention Act), the proposed provincial law, doesn’t appear to discern between recreational users and those who consume cannabis as medicine to treat various ailments.

And they strenuously object to a provision that would force motorists to store cannabis products in a car’s trunk, saying that oils or capsules could be ruined in hot temperatures.

“Pot doesn’t impair you the same way that alcohol does,” said Steven Stairs, a medical marijuana user who takes it to treat severe glaucoma.

He said a prescribed medicine should not be treated the same way as booze by authorities concerned about impaired driving.

“I don’t think anybody is being pulled over and being asked if they’ve been taking their Tylenol. Even if you’re a little sleepy at the side of the road, no officer asks you if you’ve been taking your prescription medication,” said Stairs, who was a Green party candidate in the last provincial and federal elections.

Justice Minister Heather Stefanson, who introduced Bill 25, was not available for comment on Monday, a cabinet communications official said.

Meanwhile, here is a primer for those who are looking forward to the general legalization of marijuana:

Where will it be sold?

That is still up in the air. Former premier Greg Selinger said he’d prefer to see Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries sell marijuana products. But so far Brian Pallister’s government has not taken a position on the issue. The premier has been focused on safety issues, such as how to guard against folks driving while under the influence. A federal task force recommended that cannabis be sold in storefronts, but not in the same places as liquor or cigarettes.

Will we be able to grow it at home?

According to the CBC report, Ottawa will allow Canadians to grow up to four plants per household at any one time.

How much will it cost?

The provinces will have the right to set the price. Taxes will be added to that. A medical marijuana user told the Free Press the cost of growing a gram of pot is roughly $2 to $4. If purchased from a dispensary, the cost is $8 to $12 a gram, depending on quality. According to a recent report by, which tracks retail prices in Colorado, flower gram prices range from US $5.44 to $13.76.

What will the age limit be?

Ottawa will set the minimum age for purchasing marijuana at 18, but leave it up to the provinces to set a higher age limit if they wish. The Canadian Medical Association, which represents the country’s physicians, has suggested a minimum age of 21 for marijuana consumers. In an interview last November, Pallister said he was unsure whether a minimum age higher than 18 would be wise or doable. He said he was very concerned about any policies that would drive sales underground.

What about driving?

The rules governing cannabis consumption and driving are still in development. Last week, the provincial government began to set ground rules. Bill 25 would allow for 24-hour licence suspensions if a police officer believed a driver was under the influence of the drug and unable to operate a vehicle safely. Cannabis would also have to be stored in a secure compartment, such as the trunk of a car, so that it would be inaccessible to anyone riding in the vehicle. Authorities are concerned about the lack of adequate testing to measure impairment from marijuana. What is a safe level? Those discussions are ongoing between government and police forces and stakeholders such as MADD Canada.

How much tax revenue will it generate?

That’s the $64 question — or maybe the $64 million question. Taxing a new legal product with enormous sales potential could be an important revenue stream for a province that is struggling to balance its budget. The feds will also want their take. The tricky thing is where to set the tax bar. The province has been attempting to lower expectations that legalized marijuana will be a huge government money-maker. Pallister said the fear is if taxes are too high — and the total cost is too burdensome — buyers will seek underground markets as they already have done with cigarettes. In Colorado, a state with 5.4 million people, where marijuana possession has been legal since 2012 and stores have been licensed to sell it since 2014, sales eclipsed $1 billion last year. The state raked in $200 million in taxes.

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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