Pubdate: Thu, 07 Dec 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Solomon Israel
Page: A4


Province's age restriction, home-growing ban lack common

GOVERNMENTS in Canada have been playing politics with marijuana for
some time now. The promise to legalize cannabis helped Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau and his federal Liberals achieve a majority government
in 2015, and now provincial governments across the country are coming
to grips with legalization according to their own political principles.

Some provincial governments (Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick) are
creating Crown corporations to be the legal marijuana dealers. Others
(Manitoba, Alberta, Newfoundland) are letting the private sector run
the stores. British Columbia just announced a retail solution that
will include both the public and private sectors.

Quebec and Alberta will let citizens access weed at the age of 18,
while Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, B.C., and now Manitoba are
opting for 19. The difference is, Manitoba's age of majority for
cannabis is one year older than the age of majority for alcohol -
unlike any other province that has unveiled its cannabis plans to date.

To hear Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives tell it, the new Safe and
Responsible Retailing of Cannabis Act sets the minimum age at 19 to
protect the developing brains of young Manitobans.

"There's enough evidence that shows that (cannabis) can cause brain
damage in people under the age of 25, and so we need to take into
consideration the scientific evidence of that," Justice Minister
Heather Stefanson told reporters Tuesday.

Politicians love "protecting the youth" because it's an easy win - no
one in their right mind would ever argue against keeping kids safe.
But the provincial government's logic here doesn't quite hold water.

The federal government's task force on cannabis legalization and

Grecommended 18 as the federal minimum age for purchasing cannabis,
while "acknowledging the right of provinces and territories to
harmonize it with their minimum age of purchase of alcohol."

The task force also considered a minimum age of 21, as some U.S.
jurisdictions where cannabis is legal have done, and a minimum age of
25, which was recommended by some public health professionals. The
task force decided setting the minimum age at 25 would be "unrealistic
because it would leave much of the illicit market intact." (That's
because young Canadians are most likely to use marijuana, and they're
going to get it from somewhere, regardless of the law.) After this law
passes, an 18-year-old Manitoban will still be able to stroll into a
liquor store and buy enough alcohol to drink themselves to death. But
they'll have to wait one more year to legally buy a joint.

That year-long wait, this law implies, will somehow protect young
people from the harms of cannabis. The public health experts would
likely say that's nonsense, and reiterate the call to delay cannabis
use until the age of 25. Since the Progressive Conservatives aren't
going that far, why pretend setting the age at 19 will make any
difference beyond political optics?

More importantly, why pretend setting the age at 19 will keep
18-year-old Manitobans away from marijuana? Instead of buying their
weed from federally regulated producers with quality control and
potency labelling, those 18-year-olds will just spend another year
getting their weed from the opaque black-market "gangs" that have this
government so worried in the first place. Then there's the other
head-scratcher in this bill: the ban on home-growing cannabis plants.

It's well within the Pallister government's political rights to do so,
even if the federal government believes Canadians should be allowed to
grow as many as four plants at home. Nor are the Manitoba PCs alone in
this; Quebec's Liberal government has also decided to ban home

That doesn't mean it's a good idea, even if the Manitoba Real Estate
Association is thrilled their realtors won't have to deal with legal
liabilities related to selling houses where cannabis has been grown.

On Tuesday, the association's Lorne Weiss described the risks of home
growing to reporters as follows:

"Depending on the size of the number of plants that are being grown,
and the method that's being used to grow them, that can have
implications in terms of the structural integrity of the home... also
health consequences in terms of mould and impacting on the structure
of the home, as well, if modifications have been made to improve the
quality or the speed of the grow."

The ramshackle, mouldy grow-op depicted by Weiss sounds like a much,
much bigger setup than the four plants that Ottawa wants to allow.
Generally speaking, people aren't interested in making their own homes
unlivable just to grow marijuana - that's the realm of criminals, who
might fill a house with hundreds of plants, grow as much as they can,
and then move on before getting caught.

That kind of home grow-op will remain illegal after federal
legalization. It seems highly unlikely that letting Manitobans grow as
many as four plants in their homes would lead to the real estate
market being flooded with a wave of rotting, decrepit drug dens.

After legalization becomes a reality next summer, some small
percentage of Manitobans will want to try cultivating their own
cannabis in their own homes. Why shouldn't they, if the plant is legal
for adults to use under federal and provincial law? Banning home
growing in Manitoba will not keep people from growing, either. If
Manitobans are growing cannabis illegally, which they certainly are,
they're not going to quit now.

The Progressive Conservatives may score political points with their
base by banning home cultivation and setting a higher minimum age to
use cannabis. But they could score points with everyone else by
treating Manitoba adults as, well... adults.

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Solomon Israel is the cannabis reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and 
its new online cannabis publication, The Leaf News. Read more at
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