Manitoba government ready to talk about legalizing marijuana
Advocates and licensed growers hope Justin Trudeau will fulfil promise to legalize pot
Bill VanderGraaf takes a drag of medical marijuana on the front lawn of his East Kildonan home.
"It's an exciting time," he said.
The retired Winnipeg homicide detective says he has used the homegrown drug almost daily since 2008 to cope with post-traumatic stress.
This week, he's feeling hopeful marijuana will finally be legal under incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau, who made it a campaign promise.
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"The continued criminalization of our citizens is something that should've stopped many, many years ago," VanderGraaf said, adding that even he has found himself in trouble with the law in the past for growing marijuana without proper permits.
How and when changes would roll out remains unclear, but users, licensed distributors and even the Manitoba government are eager to get moving on discussions.
Province ready to 'roll up our sleeves'
"I think that across North America, people have been getting ahead of their legislators on this issue, so I think it's timely that we had a national discussion — that we get to the table, we roll up our sleeves and make sure this is done in a sure-footed and safe way," Manitoba Attorney General Gord Mackintosh told CBC News on Thursday.
"There are questions about how much will be allowed, what age are they talking about, all of the questions about labelling and even about taxation … so when we hear the plan, we're going to come to the table," he said.
"We have to ensure that we are continuing in our positive directions when it comes to fighting organized crime and impaired driving and dealing with addictions. So we can't backslide on that."
Trudeau has already said he's not comfortable with medicinal or recreational marijuana being sold at convenience stores, insisting that changes would need to make it more difficult for minors to get their hands on the drug.
What would distribution look like?
As it stands, medical marijuana production and distribution is federally regulated by Health Canada. Some in the industry expect changes would not be much of a departure from this highly controlled system.
In Manitoba, the only licensed supplier of medical pot is Winnipeg-based Delta 9 Bio-Tech.
"What has been made very clear from the Liberal side is that we are going to see a tight system of regulation. I wouldn't think we're going to see an entirely legalized product, where cannabis is removed from the CBSA [Controlled Drug and Substance Act] and people are growing their own," said John Arbuthnot, vice-president of Delta 9 Bio-Tech.
Arbuthnot said the drug could either be controlled by a commission similar to Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries or a system of regulated stores.
"The province may [even] take a hands-off position and say this is going to be regulated by the municipalities, so it may be up to the city to determine what types of stores and where those stores can operate."
Recreational pot wouldn't replace medical cannabis
Arbuthnot said legalizing marijuana for recreational use would not remove the need for a medicinal product. In fact, he said the immediate benefit for licensed distributors such as Delta 9 Bio-Tech would be access to a much larger client base.
"Here at Delta 9, we deal with a number of clients who are immuno-compromised and who really require a product that is as near sterile as possible, so that takes us a certain way in terms of our production practices."
VanderGraaf, Mackintosh and Arbuthnot all agree that the goal behind legalization needs to be removing the production and distribution away from organized crime.
VanderGraaf added that if Trudeau does act on his promise, it would be a burden lifted off of law enforcement.
"I think the Winnipeg police will be able to put their resources to those issues that are important," he said. "They'll be able to concentrate on the people that are really doing harm out there."