Ban on home-grown pot: prudent safety measure or nonsensical tax grab?

The province's move to ban home-grown marijuana is harshing the buzz of pot proponents, while others say a cautious approach eases the burden of legal weed on police and landlords.

Advocates, critics of legalized cannabis have mixed reactions to province's pot bill

Manitobans without a medical licence will not be permitted to grown any cannabis plants in their home. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The province's move to ban home-grown marijuana is harshing the buzz of pot proponents, while others say a cautious approach eases the burden of legal weed on police and landlords.

On Tuesday, the Manitoba Progressive Conservative government tabled its Safe and Responsible Retailing of Cannabis Act, which would set the legal age to buy cannabis at 19, and ban Manitobans without a medical licence from growing any plants in their homes, despite federal legislation allowing for up to four plants.

The federal government set a deadline of July 1, 2018 for all provinces to legalize the sale of marijuana.

At the Manitoba Legislative Building on Tuesday, legalization advocate Steven Stairs had mixed reaction to the news. Although he's pleased to see the province moving forward on setting up a framework for legalized pot, he said he's "extremely disappointed" by the ban on homegrown pot.

Steven Stairs called fears over the safety of growing cannabis at home "nonsense". (CBC)

While some have argued that allowing home growing poses a safety risk due to high electricity usage from lights and water damage from hydroponic systems, Stairs questioned the logic behind allowing medical users to grow 50 plants at home, while non-medical users cannot even grow four.

"I think that's nonsense,' he said.

Lorne Weiss of the Manitoba Real Estate Association, however, praised the province's decision. He says grow operations can damage the structural integrity of a house if modifications are made and pose a health risk due to mould or fire.

Lorne Weiss, chair of the political action committee of the Manitoba Real Estate Association, praised the province's decision to ban growing of cannabis plants in the home. (CBC)

The new rules also provide clients with greater clarity when buying and selling a home, Weiss said.

"Why would you want to buy a house that's been at risk of being not structurally sound or not safe?" he said. "From our members' perspective it's a good move to be able to assure our clients that they are buying what they think they're buying, which is a home that has not been used  for the growing of cannabis."

Policing legalized pot

By not allowing any plants to be grown in homes, Weiss said police will have an easier time because they won't have to determine whether the number of plants in the home conform to the law.

Former Winnipeg police officer and medical marijuana user Bill Vandergraaf doesn't share Weiss's positive view of the province's pot bill.

"I think we're going to find that again we're wasting the time of our very precious police resources in our cities," he said.

People who grow at home often do so to offset the high cost of buying cannabis, and doing so allows people the freedom to cultivate their own strains suited to their needs, Vandergraaf said.

Taxing legalized pot

The province's decision to not allow home-grown marijuana ultimately comes down to tax revenue, Vandergraaf said.

Bill VanderGraaf, a retired Winnipeg police staff sergeant, criticized the province for not allowing people to grow cannabis at home. (CBC)

"I think what we're losing here again is another freedom based upon government's assertion that they will control the cannabis industry, and that no one else will have a foot in the door so that they can collect the taxes."

University of Winnipeg politics professor Malcolm Bird agrees that the government wants to increase its revenue from legalized pot, although he argues that's a good thing.

"If the government's going to earn any money out of it, and I don't think there really is that much money to be earned taxing this, they're going to have to push up the market price of marijuana," said Bird.

He also argued that not allowing pot to be grown at home will make police officers' jobs easier.

"How are police officers and other enforcement units going to delineate between legally purchased marijuana and non-legally purchased marijuana?" he said. "Having the opportunity or the legal right for people to grow it will make that distinction much more difficult."

Selling legalized pot

Winnipeg-based medical marijuana producer Delta 9 preparing an application to be one of four licensed marijuana retailers in Manitoba ahead of the Dec. 22 deadline.

CEO John Arbuthnot says the province is taking a cautious approach initially. He says he never considered home-growing to be a threat to his potential business, comparing it to homemade beer or wine, and said he expects the government will revisit many of the new regulations after few years.

"It's not set in stone, in fact I don't think it should be set into stone, as we start to get feedback on how these different components are actually working in Canadian society, moving forward."

Delta 9 plans to submit an application to sell cannabis in Manitoba. (CBC)

As a potential retailer, Arbuthnot said he's happy to have clarity on the rules. "We now know how to formalize or construct our control systems to ensure products are only being sold to those over the age of 19. Clarity is never a bad thing for business and we now have that."

Municipalities will have until 2022 to decide if they want to hold referendums on whether to ban pot.

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With files from Elisha Dacey, Bryce Hoye and Sean Kavanagh