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Bill 25–The Non-Smokers Health Protection and Vapour Products Amendment Act - Prohibiting Cannabis Consumption in Outdoor Public Places


Thursday April 19, I spoke to Bill 25 which outlines measures to prevent cannabis consumption in outdoor public places.   I also had an opportunity to question the Minister of Health on aspects of this bill.  My remarks and the questions and responses are below (from Hansard).
This bill will be heading to committee soon.  Anyone who would like to speak at committee stage should call the Clerk's office at 204-945-3636, and you will be put on a list to be informed as to when committee meetings will occur.


Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I too feel that when we're dealing with cannabis use, that we need to proceed with some care and some caution, but we also, of course, need to be realistic. The law is respected so long as it's reasonable and fair and is perceived to be reasonable and fair. And that's one of the challenges that we have. I will have some questions for the minister in question period after–in the 15 minutes we have. I think that there are some matters that are important to get clarification on.

      The minister mentioned that there are the possibility of exemptions, but with regard to outdoor public places. Let me give an example. Tomorrow, we will have on the front lawn of the Legislature, an outdoor public place where traditionally there has been considerable consumption of marijuana and cannabis.

      It might be better, rather than to ban or pretend that it's not happening, to actually have a limited exemption on this particular day in front of the Legislature, but with the requirement that the people who are organizing this have to put up signs letting people know that there is going to be a considerable amount of marijuana or cannabis use, and so that those who don't want to be around this are effectively warned and let know that this is happening. And such, you know, could be done on other occasions.
      I think that the member for Minto (Mr. Swan) has, you know, talked about the need to ensure that individuals who are renters who need it, whether it is for medical purposes or who use it and want somewhere to use it that's reasonably close without having to get into a car, that some consideration needs to be given to, you know, where would that be?
      If you have an apartment and rented spaces, it is not immediately apparent, I'm sure, that people will find spaces. But if we limit them and put everywhere that they might use off limits, then we are going to have a law which people will not respect because they don't perceive it as fair.
      I think it's interesting, in the context of allowing the use of cannabis–marijuana–in a private residence, that this may well set up a situation where a small retail proprietor has his retail shop where he is not allowed to have anybody using cannabis or marijuana, but there would be no problem with him inviting the occasional individual who comes to his store into his private residence which is upstairs, or behind, or adjacent, and that this would appear to be perfectly legal.
      And maybe that's not a bad thing, but it is something which, of course, the minister needs to be up front about, realizing that those sorts of things are likely to happen because of the way that this bill is written.
      There are–and we had some discussion on this at the bill briefing–there are certain rented spaces where marijuana and cannabis use would be allowed. And, specifically, the one what we discussed was on Crown land. And a person who is renting Crown land would be able to use marijuana or cannabis on their Crown land. That being viewed as different from renting an apartment, in part because in an apartment you have the owner of the building who has responsibility for the whole building and because you have tenants who are nearby.
      But I think that this area of when renters have a right to use marijuana or cannabis on their rented property versus when they don't have that right probably needs to be clarified. But I would guess that where a renter is renting a home, that that would be different from renting an apartment. But the minister may be able to clarify this.
      I think that the use of medical marijuana and the   use of marijuana for medical purposes–the frequency with which individuals use marijuana may vary. The ability for people to access the cannabis or the marijuana when they need it is something that needs to be looked at, and I'm sure we'll hear more about that at the committee stage. And I certainly welcome individuals to come to the committee so that we can have that discussion. And I look forward to that discussion when we have the committee stage.
      With those comments, I think that this is a bill which is a good start. I think we need to look quite carefully about some of the operational aspects of this bill and whether there needs to be some modifications, depending on what we hear in particular at committee stage.

      Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Questions

Mr. Deputy Speaker: If there's no–any further speakers, we'll–a question period of up to 15 minutes may be held. Questions may be addressed to the   minister by the members of the following sequence: first question by the official opposition critic or designate; subsequent question be held–asked by critics; subsequent questions asked by each independent member; remaining questions asked by one opposition member; and no questions or answers shall exceed 45 seconds.

Mr. Andrew Swan (Minto): I think the minister has acknowledged that these rules are quite restrictive for renters. The bill would allow for regulations both to  provide some exemptions or some areas where consumption would be legal, but also to further restrict use in certain areas.
      Can the minister give us any more headway today on what regulations is he planning to try to deal with some of the issues that have been raised in his speech, as well as my own speech and the speech of the member for River Heights?

Hon. Kelvin Goertzen (Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living): I take the comments from the member for Minto and the member from River Heights to heart. And, certainly, that was really the idea of having regulatory power within the bill to make changes in terms of where cannabis could or couldn't be consumed. 
      We recognize this is a new landscape for Canada, though not new in North America. But I think the member himself acknowledged there can be unintended consequences to legislation. Those are appropriate and wise words; there certainly can be. And so putting the power within regulation to make changes is about giving that flexibility to see where we might find unintended consequences. I'm sure there's going to be things that we learn about that we didn't expect, along with other provinces. And the regulatory–
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The honourable minister's time is up.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I would like to ask the minister what exemptions he might foresee–exemptions from the provisions for no use of cannabis in outdoor public spaces he would look at or consider or foresee?
Mr. Goertzen: So I think I said when we introduced the legislation to the media that we'd have to obviously look at the issue of medicinal marijuana. This is true in all provinces.
      Ontario has brought forward very similar legislation to us in terms of the restriction on indoor public places and outdoor public places. Legislation in Nova Scotia, I believe it is, in the Maritimes, is very similar in terms of outdoor and indoor public places. Saskatchewan is a little bit different. There are restrictions for indoor and outdoor places generally, but they handle medical marijuana a little bit differently. I know Ontario's now looking at medicinal marijuana and where that could be potentially used. So, clearly, the regulatory power would be to look–

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The honourable minister's time is up.

Mr. Swan: We know that our friends in the United States are interested with what we're doing, and I think it's not surprising that many of them might be coming up, for example, for the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July. If, indeed, the federal legislation is passed, they might be surprised to know that they will not be permitted to consume cannabis in any of the 35 square kilometres or 8,300 acres of Birds Hill Park.
      How will the minister not only explain the law to Manitobans but also to visitors to the province?

Mr. Goertzen: Well, I think that that challenge exists in a lot of different ways when people are coming from the US to Canada or maybe going from Canada to the US in terms of the laws being different on a variety of different things. I've certainly heard many challenges with people coming from the US to Canada because they have a drinking and driving charge or conviction in the United States, where I think it's handled as a misdemeanour, where in Canada it's considered an indictable offence. And so  they go to the border, they're asked about a criminal record, they may not disclose the drinking and driving charge because it's a different classification in the US than it is in Canada, and now, they've inadvertently said something that isn't true to a border official. And so there are those cross‑jurisdictional issues that have to happen and information to be provided here to–

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The honourable minister's time is up.

Mr. Gerrard: Let's follow up the question of Birds Hill Park at the time of the Folk Festival. Is the minister open to consideration of some exemptions to allow people to use cannabis or marijuana under certain circumstances there?

Mr. Goertzen: You know, we're not at that point of consideration. The member talked about 4-20 as well. Obviously, we'll hear different ideas at committee. We're open to listening at committee in terms of what people's views are on the legislation, as we are with all legislation. We will have more active outreach and consultation with individuals in addition to committee and stakeholders to get a sense and we'll be looking at what's happening in other jurisdictions as well to see how they're handling the situation.
      At the end of the day, whether–when it comes to 4-20, law enforcement has always had the discretion, even under the current legislation, in terms of enforcement, and that discretion continues to rest with them.

Mr. Swan: I've heard the minister speak a number of  times about trying to avoid the normalization of  using cannabis. Would the minister agree that allowing the sale of cannabis in private outlets with a profit motive would actually tend to make people believe that cannabis is more normalized?

Mr. Goertzen: Well, just on the issue of, you know, quote, unquote, normalization, I mean that's a term that was used by the lung association; it's a term that was used by the cancer society. And the issue is the normalization of the activity of smoking, and so there have been many governments, including the former NDP government and the federal Liberal government that have invested millions of dollars to try to denormalize the activity of smoking, and so that is the issue of normalization. It was reinforced by the lung association which came to support the legislation, the cancer society that we're not–we are concerned about the normalization of the act and the action of smoking.

Mr. Gerrard: I'd seek some more clarity on this question of when somebody is renting. The question of Crown lands seems to be that somebody could use cannabis or marijuana. It would appear, based on what I'm hearing, that a rented apartment, an individual would not be able to use marijuana or cannabis, but at a rented private home that they might be able to. What is the minister's view, for clarity, on this?

Mr. Goertzen: Well, I think it depends somewhat on the agreement that the individual has entered into. And so, certainly, in a multi-dwelling facility, there are typically a variety of different things that you sign on to with your landlord in terms of things that you can and can't do.
      I've been a tenant, particularly in university. I remember reading through the list and they included a whole host of things, including not having a barbecue, not having a public auction in the facility. There was a number of different things.
      And so there are a lot of things that are restricted within a rental tenancy agreement, and that really is where the instruction would come from.

Mr. Gerrard: Yes, just to pursue that a little bit more, does the minister foresee that that rental tenancy agreement would, from the time that this bill is passed, really need to include a statement whether or not the individual would be allowed to use cannabis or marijuana on that rental property?

Mr. Goertzen: Well, I don't think that we're looking to intercede in the contractual agreements between those who are renting and those who are renters. But I do think that there needs to be more discussion about where those who are living in a multi-unit–dwelling unit, where they are not able to smoke indoors, what other possibilities exist.
      I know those discussions are happening in Ontario, they're happening in other jurisdictions. We're certainly having some correspondence–or,   some communications, I should say, between jurisdictions. And that is why we have the regulatory power to make changes. And it's why we have committee; I want to hear from people on their views on that.

Mr. Swan: Return to something I asked about where I really didn't get an answer.
      Of course, there will be different regimes across the country, as well as people visiting from elsewhere. How does the minister plan to let Manitobans–but also visitors to Manitoba–know what the law and what the exceptions will be when the law comes into effect?
Mr. Goertzen: Well, I mean, there are a variety of ways that we can communicate with people who are resident in Manitoba and who may not be resident in Manitoba.
      I know that there are different places within our consulates in different parts of North America, whether it's our consulate in Minneapolis or in Chicago, they often work with American officials to ensure there's a better understanding of the law. I use the example of drinking and driving. I know there's often a lot of work done on the American side within a Canadian consulate to educate those who might be coming up to go fishing in Manitoba, for example, or other sort of travel about what the laws are and what happens when they get to the border, because there's not always that clear understanding.
      There's a variety of ways to educate people.
Mr. Gerrard: Earlier on, the minister compared the regulation–or, the legislation with respect to cannabis as similar to alcohol, and that with alcohol, of course, we have exceptions which are permitted in bars and restaurants and various other places–even private get-togethers at public spaces.
      Is the minister, in making that comparison, expecting that there will be a similar situation where there will be permitting for people to have bars or restaurants or private functions where cannabis can be used?

Mr. Goertzen: It wasn't the point of the comparison but liquor is the closest comparison that we have. And so you are not able to walk down the street with–or, a sidewalk with open liquor, or to sit on a swing in a playground with open liquor. That is unlawful.
      So it's the closest comparison that we have when it comes to what will be happening in Manitoba when it comes to cannabis.

Mr. Gerrard: I'd like to take that a little bit further.
      I mean, is it likely or is it impossible, then, for there to be a, you know, public places like designated bars or what have you? Will this never happen, or is this something that the minister would be listening to  people at committee in terms of what they're recommending?

Mr. Goertzen: Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would never say never. I would never want to say to the member that something is never going to happen. There are a lot of things that I can't foresee as Health Minister.
      And this will disappoint the members opposite, but I won't be Health Minister forever, either. And so there are things that can change, I–as–[interjection]–well, I know.

Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.
Mr. Goertzen: –well, I know I–you know, you'll have the whole weekend to get over that disappointment, but of course there are things that can change. I mean we'll listen in committee to the different things that–the suggestions that come forward, but it's not our immediate intention to start building in a series of exemptions.
Mr. Gerrard: The minister has, in companion legislation, put forward the fact that people will not be able to grow four plants, or three 'prants', or two 'prants', or one plant. I just put this forward because it is relevant in terms of the use of marijuana outside, but I'm just wondering what the minister's plans are in terms of enforcing the no cannabis or marijuana use in outside public places. That's a lot of space in Manitoba, and I don't know how many people he's got to enforce it.

Mr. Goertzen: Well, enforcement is an issue with  any legislation, whether you're dealing with speeding, and you know, the member's right. Manitoba's a big geographic area and I'm sure that there are people who speed who shouldn't and enforcement can be a challenge in anything and within any government.
      But you know, you have to have the law in place  and then obviously we entrust those who are  entrusted with enforcement to both use their judgment and their discretion when it comes to that enforcement. So the legislation is coming in place. You know, we'll look in terms of the ease of enforcement as we go forward. I'm sure we'll hear suggestions as this develops not only in Manitoba but in Canada as well.

Mr. Gerrard: Yes, Senator Murray Sinclair commented recently that it's very important that if you have the law that it's not used to target people based on race, or age, or gender, so on. What measures will the minister be taking to ensure that the application of this law is fair and that it won't be used to target people who are poor or who are of whatever age or gender or background?

Mr. Goertzen: I think the member's drifting a little bit into areas that are more justice- than they are health-related, but there's nothing within this bill that I believe are–would lead to inequitable enforcement.
      It's a jaw–it's the law of general application, and in fact it applies right across the province including on federally regulated land and property. And so with the law of general application, I think that it's  structured to be fair and if there are more enforcement questions, my friend from Tuxedo is more than capable to answer those questions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Okay. I guess that ends the question period.

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