'We warned them that this was a rushed job': Manitoba says some pot rules still unclear

The Manitoba government blamed its federal counterpart Wednesday for not moving quickly enough to ensure police forces have roadside screening tests in time for cannabis legalization.

Province says feds haven't moved quickly enough to ensure police have roadside screening tests before Oct. 17

Manitoba still has gaps in its plans to deal with with legalized cannabis because the federal government has not ironed out some of the details, provincial ministers said Wednesday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A week away from the legalization of recreational cannabis, three ministers in the Manitoba government say the province is as ready as it's going to be for the historic policy change — but that Ottawa has fallen short. 

The province blamed the federal government Wednesday for not moving quickly enough to ensure police forces have roadside screening tests to check for drugs in time for the Oct. 17 legalization date.

At the same time, other issues related to federal packaging, excise stamps, online age verification and seed-to-sale verification remain, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen told a Wednesday media conference.

"The federal government rushed this. We warned them that this was a rushed job," Friesen said. "Nevertheless, we have to get ready."

The province added that paperwork has not been signed confirming Manitoba's 75 per cent share of an excise tax on recreational cannabis enacted by Ottawa.

Manitoba police forces will not have a pot-screening device in time for the Oct. 17 legalization date for recreational cannabis use. (CBC)

As for pot-screening devices, the province says it has taken the federal government too long to provide clarity and funding, according to a government spokesperson.

In August, the federal government approved the Drager DrugTest 5000 as saliva-screening equipment for use by law enforcement to test for THC, the main psychoactive agent in cannabis.

The manufacturer has 500 devices available for the country, but due to limited funding and supply Manitoba can only acquire 21 of them by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year.

The province plans to allocate $840,000 in funding from Ottawa to purchase 111 devices over a five-year period.

Until financing is determined, police detachments will continue to rely on officers who are trained to detect drug impairment by observation, as will police forces that question the device's reliability in cold temperatures.

Ready or not

Even without the equipment, provincial Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said Manitoba's police forces are prepared.

He brushed off worries over potential legal challenges to impaired driving charges, saying officers are trained to administer field sobriety tests to check for impairment. Screening devices are simply another tool police members will have at their disposal, he said.

He confirmed Manitoba's two biggest police forces — the Winnipeg Police Service and Manitoba RCMP — want to acquire the devices.

Police services in Rivers and Morden have also made orders for the screening devices, they previously told CBC News.

Recreational market

The province says 12 retail stores have completed most of the regulatory hurdles to open their doors, but Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen said he would leave it up to the licensees themselves to reveal when they would open and where they will be located.

He was unsure how many outlets would be selling cannabis by Oct. 17. 

Pedersen said the province is still on track to meet its previously stated goal of having cannabis retail outlets within a 30-minute drive for 90 per cent of Manitobans open within two years.

He said the province is awaiting the results of cannabis referendums in eight communities this month, including Steinbach and Winkler, before proceeding any further on expansion.

The news conference Wednesday also marked the official unveiling of a new advertising campaign warning of the dangers of cannabis use, specifically for youth.

The $350,000 promotional effort will be communicated through posters, direct mail and a significant presence on social media.

"We intend to blitz. We want to get this word out," Friesen said.

"It took years to convince people in Canada of the dangers of drinking and driving. It will take time for people to get educated but the time to start is right away."

No smelling of weed

The province has also reworked its impairment policy for government employees. The new rules say that workers "must not smell of alcohol or cannabis" while on duty and can be sent home if their superiors suspect they might be impaired.

"Employees must also be presentable — i.e. must not smell of alcohol or cannabis — and must conduct themselves in a manner that upholds public trust and is consistent with established ethical standards," the policy states.

The province is not instituting a mandatory government-wide minimum period before work in which employees must abstain from using cannabis, but said some departments might adopt their own.

The province still has not revealed the fines that cannabis users will face for being caught smoking or vaping in most public places, including close to schools. Those details will be revealed in the coming days.

As for the Winnipeg Police Service, Winnipeg Police Association president Maurice Sabourin says the force is looking at modifying its existing policy around impairment from other substances, including alcohol and medication, which simply stipulates that officers must be fit for duty.

"Fit for duty, I think the easiest way you could say, is you're showing up for work and you're not impaired by anything, whether it be alcohol, whether it be marijuana, or whether it be cold medication," he said.

Some police forces in Canada, such as the RCMP and Toronto Police Service, are considering banning officers from consuming cannabis within 28 days of a shift. Sabourin says those rules infringe too much upon what officers can legally do in their spare time. 

"How can an employer impart how an employee, what they do in their off time?" he said. "I'm sure our members are responsible enough to know they can't be coming to work in an impaired state."

Province says feds haven't moved quickly enough to ensure police have roadside screening tests before Oct. 17. 1:54

With files from The Canadian Press

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.