Toking allowed in homes but few other places under proposed Manitoba law
Smoking or vaping cannabis would not be allowed in most indoor, outdoor public spaces
Legalized cannabis users in Manitoba will be largely prohibited from consuming pot anywhere but in their own homes if a new bill introduced by the provincial government is passed into law.
Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen introduced the bill proposing strict guidelines for recreational cannabis use, which is expected to be legalized later this year, on Tuesday.
The province said it plans to ban people from smoking cannabis in most public places, including parks and beaches.
That would ban cannabis use in some areas where people can smoke and drink, which Goertzen said is because the government doesn't want to "normalize" use of pot.
"It is uncharted waters for Canada when it comes to the legalization of marijuana," Goertzen said.
"We believe that starting off by looking at safety as the top priority and going further ... than with smoking in some places and alcohol in others is the prudent approach."
Smoking or vaping cannabis won't be allowed on streets, school grounds, parks, beaches or restaurant patios. It will also be banned in most indoor public areas, with some exceptions such as palliative care units in hospitals.
Penalties would be similar to those for smoking tobacco where it's prohibited — starting at $100 to $500 for a first offence and climbing for subsequent infractions.
Advocates for legalized cannabis and companies gearing up to sell it expressed concerns about the lack of spaces for people to legally consume.
Medical marijuana activist Steven Stairs said he's been smoking in public for the past decade and he manages to do it without offending people, so he doesn't understand why the province feels the need to place stricter rules on pot consumption than tobacco or alcohol.
"This is not legalization. This is a Conservative veil … 'protecting the public,' but meanwhile they're just following their base, people who don't want cannabis to be legalized," Stairs said.
Gary Symons of Delta 9, one of the companies approved to open cannabis retail locations in Manitoba, said his experience in British Columbia, where he lives, shows that it may be difficult to contain cannabis consumption to private homes.
"It's nice to think that you can limit it to a particular place, but the reality of what we see in real life when people are consuming cannabis just doesn't support that conclusion," he said.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he thinks people should be allowed to consume marijuana in places where it doesn't impact others.
He also expressed concern over how the province plans to enforce the law on First Nations.
"I heard some mention of this law applying on reserve. And so I'm curious whether they're going to get band council resolutions from all the First Nations in Manitoba. Have they consulted with First Nations about applying this law on reserve?" he said.
Smoking is allowed inside homes, but it's unclear how that will affect renters whose landlords don't allow marijuana smoking inside.
CBC News visited Osborne Village to ask Winnipeggers for their reaction to the proposed new rules, and most reacted positively.
"I actually agree with it, because you've got kids and stuff like that around the neighbourhood. I mean sure, smoke it in your backyard, but keep it off the street," said Arthur Baxter.
David Anema said he understands why people wouldn't be allowed to smoke pot inside, but questions why people wouldn't be allowed to smoke it outside on the street, as they can with tobacco.
"I don't like that. It doesn't sound good to me," he said.
Stairs would like to see cannabis treated similarly to tobacco or alcohol, with designated spaces where people can consume without being penalized.
"Just have some sort of freedom to consume it in public, just like everybody else can consume tobacco or alcohol. But they haven't done that. They went over the way of being safe," he said.
New rules for drivers
The proposed law also calls for new penalties for people who drive under the influence of cannabis.
Police officers will be issued oral-fluid screening devices to check for the presence of cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine. Following that, drivers could be ordered to take a blood test or roadside sobriety test.
But those devices are still waiting for approval from the federal attorney general and Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson is worried the date of legalization may come before the police get the equipment.
"We've called on [the federal government] to hold off on this until they have those devices in place," she said.
Fines and licence suspensions would be similar to those already in place for drivers impaired by alcohol.
Mark Goliger is chief executive officer of National Access Cannabis, which has partnered with three Manitoba First Nations to help establish a cannabis distribution network in the province.
He hopes that the lack of an accurate roadside test doesn't delay legalization.
"I think it's going to be a tremendous challenge for them to get a device that can measure something that stays within your blood for over a week," he said, adding that the province should focus on training police officers to spot intoxicated people.
The federal government is expected to pass its cannabis legalization legislation late this spring, but it will be several weeks after that before its available for sale.
With files from Sean Kavanagh, Jillian Coubrough, Cameron MacLean and The Canadian Press