Proposed ban on smoking pot in public could be bad for Manitoba business, critics say

A former Winnipeg police officer turned pot advocate says Manitoba will miss out on an chance to cash in on legal cannabis if rules that would effectively ban pot smoking from all public places are passed into law.

Tough rules on smoking in public places could hurt Winnipeg's downtown, tourism industry, say pot advocates

Manitoba pot rules bad for business, tourism

5 years ago
Duration 1:59
A former Winnipeg police officer turned pot advocate says Manitoba will miss out on an chance to cash in on legal cannabis if rules that would effectively ban pot smoking from all public places are passed into law.

A former Winnipeg police officer turned pot legalization advocate says Manitoba will miss out on a chance to cash in if rules that would effectively ban pot smoking in all public places become law.

Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government introduced legislation Tuesday that would ban people from smoking up in most public places, including parks, bars, restaurant patios and beaches, following the legalization of recreational cannabis use, which is expected to happen this year.

William VanderGraaf, a retired Winnipeg police staff sergeant who ran a vape lounge for medical marijuana users after retiring from the force, calls the the new legislation "oppressive and a missed opportunity" for the Manitoba government.

"You want people to come downtown, you want people to come to restaurants and bars, you want the economy to flourish — people don't help the economy by staying at home," VanderGraff told CBC News Wednesday.

"I just don't understand why the government isn't embracing the legalization instead of fighting it every inch."

Retired Winnipeg police staff sergeant turned medical pot advocate William VanderGraaf says the province should consider allowing marijuana smoking at vape lounges, private clubs and cafes. (CBC)

While VanderGraaf agrees smoking should not be allowed on restaurant patios, he thinks the rules should allow for pot use at vaping lounges, private clubs or cafes.

"Forcing people underground, forcing people to stay home … again, the government is making a big mistake by not embracing the issue with a more open-minded policy."

Tourism dollars

And it's not just money from local pot smokers the province could miss out on under the proposed rules, says Michael Gordon, the CEO of Seattle-based Kush Tourism.

Kush Tourism helps link travellers with pot-friendly hotels and tourist destinations, and Gordon says Manitoba's strict rules could keep some American visitors away.

"You're essentially forcing all these travellers who, in my opinion, make up potentially 20 to 30 per cent of this market — you're forcing them to break the law to consume what should be a legal product," he said.

"To provide a responsible way for travellers to consume is so important and it's disappointing to see that overlooked."

Michael Gordon, the CEO of Seattle-based Kush Tourism, says Manitoba's strict pot rules could keep some American visitors away. (Submitted by Kush Tourism)

He says the rules floated by the Manitoba government aren't very different than those adopted by U.S. states like Washington, which have taken a cautious approach to legalization.

Gordon expects Manitoba will still see American travellers coming to buy pot, but says other provinces could take that business away by adopting less conservative rules around the drug's use.

"Where you're going to encounter problems is when your neighbouring … provinces do enable people to consume, and they really embrace this tourism opportunity," he said.

"Nobody's embraced it and the first person who does that is going to see success."

The City of Winnipeg said Wednesday it's reviewing the province's restrictions and is still trying to determine whether cannabis smoking will be allowed in designated smoking areas of private businesses, like hotels.

In January, the city passed a bylaw banning all smoking on patios.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen introduced the bill proposing strict guidelines for recreational cannabis use Tuesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

In an email to CBC News, Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the province is worried about "the health and safety of Manitobans – not the pot tourism industry."

"We have maintained that public health and safety is our foremost priority while preparing for the legalization of cannabis on the short timeline set out by the federal government," he said.

"Introducing Bill 25 will protect Manitobans from exposure to cannabis in all shared public areas, which we believe is the right position to start from."

The federal government is expected to pass its cannabis legalization legislation late this spring, but it will be several weeks after that before it's available for sale.

With files from Nelly Gonzalez