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Bill - A law to restrict the use of cannabis, in any form, in every single outdoor public space in Manitoba

On Thursday, March 25, I had a chance to question Minister Friesen about Bill 6.  It is a bill which prohibits the use of cannabis in outdoor public spaces in Manitoba.   Much of the restrictions will be contained in regulations.  I had presumed that the Minister would provide for the use of cannabis in some outdoor public spaces.  But under questioning it became apparent that he is talking about banning cannabis use in every single public outdoor space in our province.  The is too broad, and is not based on common sense as my comments below show.   My questions, the minister's answers and my comments during debate of second reading are below (from Hansard). 

Bill 6–The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Amendment Act

Questions:

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): 

      I ask the minister, so much is hidden here, in terms of the definition of public spaces, under this act. The–so much can be written into regulations that it is hidden in the act itself.

      Would the minister give us a little more detail, in terms of where the exceptions would be for allowing people to smoke cannabis or consume cannabis?

Mr. Friesen: Well, the member knows that when it comes to smoking cannabis, those rules are already established and this is a progression of that, as well.

      And, of course, as he says, that there's a general prohibition of cannabis consumption in public places. The bill makes clear that it refers to edibles, extracts and topicals. The exception as to which he speaks have to do also with products that are non-intoxicating cannabis products. So there are some exceptions in that case as well. But clearly, like the smoked cannabis products, in homes and in your private abode. 

 Mr. Gerrard: Yes, I mean in the case of alcohol it's prohibited to be consuming it when you're traveling in a car, for example, and it's very specific places. If you go to a provincial park, for example, generally speaking, although it may be for some weekends, there's not a prohibition against consuming alcohol.

      What you're putting forward apparently is a general prohibition so that people can't even use it anywhere in a public park except if they happen to have a cottage perhaps inside.

      Is that the approach that the minister's going to take, that park with a lot of outdoor spaces and open spaces that you can't consume cannabis anywhere except for inside a cottage that somebody may have?

Mr. Friesen: It is true that this is a restrictive approach to begin.

      As we said, when it comes to cannabis legalization in Canada, this bold societal experiment is less than three years old, and therefore, it is easier over time as we understand how products and new products will enter the marketplace, because there's incredible product development going on all over the world right now.

      It's important to start with restrictions, as we have done, and then to loosen those restrictions over time as we better understand the impact on society, on health care, on safety. And so, as the member says, the restriction goes to homes and houses and principal residences, and we believe that's a good place to start.

Mr. Gerrard: Yes, I'm afraid that–I think that the approach that the minister is taking is far too broad. If somebody's in a wilderness park and there's nobody within a kilometre of them, surely there's not going to be too much concern about somebody consuming cannabis.

      I think that there needs to be some common sense here and that, hopefully, that we will see some common sense if and when this goes to committee, that the minister will decide there is a way that probably is a little closer to what's done with alcohol, that there are some restrictions but there's not this universal restriction of every public place in the province.

Mr. Friesen: I mean, the member is correct. There will be debate on this issue.

      I would suggest to the member we as a society have to start somewhere. It is a long horizon when it comes to cannabis. It is important to start in a place where we can, you know, reasonably ensure safety. So if there is a pendulum that is swung, yes, we would say we have started with the focus on the health and safety of people, understanding the risks that cannabis can pose to young people, to youth, to children. We don't apologize for that.

      And knowing that we will continue to be in this together as a society, there'll be lots of time to decide how to loosen restrictions as time goes on.

Debate: 

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): My comments will be brief.

      I think the approach that the minister is taking has not got much common sense around it. If somebody's out in the middle of a wilderness park and they're a kilometre from everybody else, there's no sense in restricting their ability to use cannabis.

      I also think that there's a fundamental problem here that, you know, this is legal if you've got people, for example, who are renting, who may not, under some circumstances, be able to have, you know, smoke cannabis in their own apartment because of the rules there. They need places outdoors to be able to smoke cannabis or consume cannabis in one way or another.

      If you've got people who are travelling–I mean, if somebody wants to go by car from Winnipeg to Thompson, for example, and they want to stop somewhere and every public space along the way is prohibited in terms of consuming cannabis, that this just, I mean, doesn't make common sense and it's not enforceable; it's not realistic.

      If the minister actually wanted to protect children, say, under age 19, I mean, you could at least say, you can't smoke or consume cannabis within, you know, four metres of somebody who's under 19. It would be at least, you know, measurable and it would be at least targeted in terms of the people that you're trying to protect.

      I'm not saying that that would necessarily be the common-sense way to go either, but I think that, hopefully, at the committee stage, we will have Manitobans with some common-sense suggestions as to how better to approach this, in contrast to what the minister is proposing: a blanket prohibition on all public places in the province.

      Thank you.

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