PROVINCE PROVIDES RESPONSE TO SENATE COMMITTEE ON CANNABIS LEGISLATION

The Manitoba government has provided a submission to the federal Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology to highlight ongoing concerns related to cannabis legalization, including road safety, Justice Minister Heather Stefanson and Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced today.

“As we address the federal government’s decision to legalize recreational cannabis, our government’s priority is to ensure the public health and safety of Manitobans,” said Stefanson.  “While Manitoba continues to make significant progress preparing for the federal legalization of cannabis, many major concerns remain outstanding and require immediate federal attention.”

Concerns particularly relate to road safety, law enforcement and general risks associated with a short implementation timeframe, Stefanson noted.

“Our government continues to hold concerns that the short time frame for implementation presents significant risks to achieving the federal government’s stated objectives for legalization, including keeping cannabis out of the hands of our youth and away from the black market,” said Goertzen.  “Our government continues to emphasize the importance of ongoing, robust, culturally sensitive and co-ordinated public education efforts, with a particular focus on youth and vulnerable groups.”

Stefanson and Goertzen also re-emphasized Manitoba’s support for an amendment to C-45, The Cannabis Act, to specify that provinces and territories hold legislative authority to further restrict home cannabis production.  While such an amendment is unnecessary from a legal standpoint, it would eliminate ambiguity and avoid needless and costly legal challenges.

Other concerns raised by Stefanson and Goertzen to the senate committee include:
•    the timely and appropriate implementation of road safety measures before legalization takes effect;
•    resource pressures by law enforcement as they work to keep roads safe;
•    the risks associated with a short implementation timeframe;
•    the reliability and cost challenges associated with a seed to sale tracking system; and
•    the length of time needed to prepare for full cannabis retail operations.

“Just like with drunk driving, people who drive high aren’t just taking a chance with their own life, but they’re potentially endangering all road users,” said Liz Kulyk, corporate manager, government and community relations, CAA Manitoba.  “With legalization just around the corner, governments across Canada need more certainty that there will be enough funding for law enforcement, research and especially public education to ensure that road safety is top of mind as we move towards and post legalization.”

As announced previously, Manitoba has made significant progress in anticipation of upcoming federal legalization of cannabis.  The Cannabis Harm Prevention Act established several common sense safety measures, including a 24-hour driver’s licence suspension if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe a driver is unable to safely operate a vehicle due to being under the influence of a drug.  It also prohibits the smoking and vaping of cannabis in enclosed public places and indoor workplaces. The recently introduced impaired driving offences act would further strengthen road safety with tough provincial sanctions that correspond with the new offences outlined in the federal Bill C-46.  These sanctions include additional consequences for beginner drivers to be established by regulation.

Manitoba has also introduced the non-smokers health protection and vapour products amendment act (prohibiting cannabis consumption in outdoor public places) that would prohibit smoking and vaping cannabis in outdoor public places and the safe and responsible retailing of cannabis act that would establish the framework for the retail sale of cannabis in Manitoba and set the minimum age of 19 for possession and use of cannabis.

“In all its forms, cannabis remains a substance that poses considerable risks to youth in particular,” said Ken Cameron, president, Manitoba School Boards Association.  “We share the concerns raised by the government of Manitoba, particularly as they relate to enforcement and public safety ahead of cannabis legalization.  We remain committed to protecting all persons engaged within the public schools system from cannabis-related harms.”

The federal government must address these outstanding concerns prior to legalization coming into effect, said Stefanson and Goertzen.

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