Canada: Children’s Advocate Raises Concerns Over Manitoba Pot Bill

Photo Credit: CBC News

Manitoba’s advocate for children and youth says the province’s proposed cannabis legislation fails to address young people.

In a presentation to Manitoba’s Standing Committee on Justice Tuesday evening, Daphne Penrose raised numerous issues with Bill 11, the Safe and Responsible Retailing of Cannabis Act.

Among her biggest concerns: Manitoba’s proposed pot laws will result in more youth with criminal records.

“There is zero tolerance for possession of cannabis under the age of 19, so there is a potential for a criminalization of youth and young people,” she said.

Penrose said she wants the province to consider fines and confiscation before charges.

“I think that criminalizing does not help youth and young people,” she said.

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Heather Stefanson challenged Penrose’s assertion that the province was criminalizing youth for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

“The federal Bill C-45 criminalizes youth possession in excess of 5 grams but leaves possession under 5 grams subject to provincial sanctions. Regulations stemming from Bill 11 will include sanctions for all cannabis possession under 5 grams, consistent with the fines for underage possession of alcohol,” said the spokesperson in an email statement.

Penrose is calling on the province to develop an education strategy on cannabis specifically for youth. She also wants to see health warnings on packaging targeted at young people that include the impacts marijuana can have on a developing brain.

The provincial spokesperson said an education campaign is already part of the legislation.

“The proposed act carries over the Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba’s mandate for public education, research, social responsibility and public safety. The LGA is also well-positioned to collaborate with provincial departments and other stakeholders to co-ordinate complementary public education messaging, as it does for liquor and gambling,” the spokesperson said.

Federal legislation already contains rules around packaging, such as limiting images that are appealing to kids, and requires health warnings similar to tobacco, the spokesperson said.

The advocate also wants to see more resources invested in mental health and addictions services for youth.

Penrose is requesting the province earmark a portion of cannabis tax revenue for youth addictions treatment in urban centers and on First Nations.

“I will continue to encourage that some of those taxation dollars be put back into the community so that each of those communities can invest back into their young people and create traditional healing centers as they see fit,” she said. “I think that’s an important investment.”

Penrose said she is meeting with Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson on Thursday to discuss her concerns further.

Lung Association raises concerns over hookah

The president of the Manitoba Lung Association also aired his concerns about Manitoba’s proposed provisions around cannabis consumption at the committee meeting.

Under the bill, Manitoba plans to ban people from smoking cannabis in most public places, including parks and beaches.

Association president Neil Johnston said he supports the province’s strict approach to consumption, which he said is key to limiting the risk of second-hand smoke, but he wants the definition of smoking expanded to include the use of water pipes or hookahs.

“Closing the loophole on the water pipe inclusion is what we’re concerned about,” he said.

“The World Health Organization has a statement that using a hookah between 20 and 80 minutes … could be the same as smoking 100 cigarettes.”

Johnston is also calling on the government to increase its investment in public education and research related to the health effects of cannabis and second-hand smoke.