Morden-Winkler MLA and Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said many of his constituents are concerned about the legalization of marijuana.
The government of Manitoba released regulations for the sale of cannabis on Dec. 5, and Morden-Winkler MLA Cameron Friesen said the issue is very much on people’s minds here in the constituency.
“Many people in our area expressed to me that they are concerned,” he said. “They are concerned that perhaps the federal government is not recognizing the extent to which we could face challenges in the future that we’re not seeing clearly now.”
The new regulations would put Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries in charge of acquiring cannabis for retail sale and supplying it to retailers. The Liquor and Gaming Authority would be responsible for licensing cannabis stores and distributors.
Growing cannabis at home will be prohibited, and one must be a minimum of 19-years-old to purchase.
The new legislation also gives municipal governments the right to prohibit retail sales by holding a plebiscite.
Friesen said their regulations were formed through the lens of safety.
“We owe a duty of safety and security to Manitobans, both those who will avail themselves of these products and those who choose not to,” he said.
The province is also forming regulations while not knowing what the costs or profits will be.
“We know we have tremendous expenses coming this way and as a finance minister I’ve been criticized for pointing to the areas of cost that the province will incur,” he said. “There’s no guarantees that revenue will run above expenses.”
Friesen said they expect increased costs for the court system, roadside enforcement, education and public awareness, health and a youth focus.
Back at home, Friesen said he hears varying levels of concern regarding the new legislation.
“Some people joke, and say how soon can we get it,” he said. “Others say be very careful and proceed with abundant caution.”
The policy has been criticized by some groups for banning the ability to grow plants at home, similar to rules that allow people to make their own beer or wine.
But Friesen said they felt there was a greater risk that cannabis would fall into the hands of youth, and thought it was best to simply prohibit home grown marijuana.
“If people want to access this product they can do so in a retail outlet,” he said.
Friesen said the hybrid model allows them to rely on the strengths of Manitobans.
“We like the fact that in our model we’re trusting the public sector to do what the public sector does well and that is regulation and distribution,” he said. “And we’re also trusting the private sector to what they do well.”
Friesen added that the regulations they start with won’t necessarily be the regulations that stay forever.
He pointed to ongoing changes around alcohol as an example.
“I think what Manitobans should understand is we have to start somewhere,” he said. “There is a lot that we don’t know.”
“It will be far easier to broaden the rules than to try to bring them in and that’s a broad rule when it comes to policy.”