If you want to legally light a joint in Manitoba once marijuana is legalized, you’ll be stuck doing it on private property — the province has restricted its use almost everywhere else.
A bill introduced Tuesday will ban cannabis smoking or vaporizing in any outdoor public place in the province. That includes sidewalks, parking lots, parks, playgrounds, beaches and pools, outdoor fields or sports venues, educational facilities, and patios or decks attached to restaurants.
The penalties for using marijuana in public places will be the same as those for tobacco: a series of escalating fines ranging from $100 to $1,000.
Can you light up in your own backyard? Smoking or vaporizing cannabis outdoors on private property would be legal, said a senior government employee.
What about people who live in apartments? Since Manitoba landlords can legally include no-smoking clauses in leases, Bill 25 appears to leave some Manitobans who don’t own private property with nowhere to legally consume a soon-to-be-legal substance.
“It’s difficult to put in place legislation that deals with everybody who may not have property or may not have friends or associates. This is about a common interest, a common interest in safety and a common interest in health.” – Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen
Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen told reporters such people ought to visit a friend who owns private property.
"It’s difficult to put in place legislation that deals with everybody who may not have property or may not have friends or associates," said Goertzen. "This is about a common interest, a common interest in safety and a common interest in health."
Another new bill will also contain penalties for people who drive under the influence of cannabis and other drugs.
It will be linked to a proposed federal law which will let Canadian police use an "oral fluid screening device" to test drivers for the presence of certain drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Police could then demand blood tests.
But Bill 26 introduced by Justice Minister Heather Stefanson on Tuesday goes well beyond the federal law, adding a complex series of escalating sanctions on top of federal penalties.
A Manitoban convicted of driving with a "low" level of cannabis-derived chemicals in their blood, for example, could face a six-month licence suspension for the first offence within a 10-year period, or a year-long licence suspension for subsequent convictions.
Those charged with driving under the influence of "high" levels of drugs, or mixed levels of drugs and alcohol, could have their licences suspended and their vehicles impounded even before being convicted of those offences. Following conviction, their licences could be suspended for periods ranging from one year to life, with other possible sanctions including vehicle forfeiture and ignition interlocks.
Even failing an initial roadside oral fluid drug screening test in Manitoba could lead to immediate roadside licence suspensions ranging from three days to 60 days. The law would also subject some offenders to assessments and possible interventions by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.
The Manitoba law will give law enforcement "additional tools to deal with impaired driving that mirror the current roadside sanctions for blood alcohol content," Stefanson told reporters.
"Our government has consistently led the country with a legislative agenda on cannabis that steadfastly prioritizes the health and safety of Manitobans," said Stefanson. "The legislation we have introduced today is consistent with the practical, responsible approach we have taken all along."
Local cannabis advocate Steven Stairs lambasted the restrictions on where users can light up.
"This is prohibition — just under a different name," he said. "It’s appealing to the Conservative base, who doesn’t want this to be legalized."
NDP Leader Wab Kinew appeared less concerned about the idea of forbidding outdoor marijuana use.
"As a parent, I don’t want somebody smoking weed at the park when I take my kids to go play there," he told reporters. "But my question is, how are they going to enforce it at a Snoop Dogg concert or on the (legislature) lawn during 4/20?"
Asked about how the restrictions on outdoor cannabis use might have a disproportionate impact on poor people who don’t own property, Kinew said, "It’s an interesting question."
"I think that we should remember that this government’s also bringing in a bill that will make it harder for people to challenge their landlords generally speaking, so I think there’s a few layers to how this could impact people."
Kinew said people should be allowed to use cannabis "in areas where they’re not going to impact others," but said he needs to take a closer look at the bill and discuss it with his caucus before deciding how an NDP government would have approached the issue.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont blasted the government for creating "unenforceable laws" for appearance’s sake on marijuana while all but ignoring more serious problems, such as methamphetamine.
He said the Tory government is "adding strain to an overburdened justice system which is already reported as the worst in Canada."
"This has nothing to do with public safety, and everything to do with maximizing revenue for something that is going to be legal across Canada and an attempt to recriminalize the use of marijuana for young people," said Lamont.
— with files from Larry Kusch
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.
Updated on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 8:16 PM CDT: adds outtake
8:52 PM: Removes erroneous sentence.
11:47 PM: adds video
11:51 PM: Fixes broken video link