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Ready to roll: Manitoba kicks off marijuana legalization

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Delta 9 cannabis store prepares for opening day in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. Winnipeg Free Press 2018.1 / 2
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Delta 9 cannabis store prepares for opening day in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. Winnipeg Free Press 2018.2 / 2

Nearly a century after Canada outlawed marijuana, the psychoactive plant is legal once again.

However, the federal Cannabis Act that takes effect Wednesday does much more than simply "Legalize It," as the old Peter Tosh tune urged.

Instead, the new law brings to life the Liberal government's promise to "legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana." It replaces the old, sweeping prohibition on cannabis for nonmedical purposes with a regime that lets federally regulated companies grow marijuana, then sell it to adults through provincially regulated stores.

That federal initiative never sat well with Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government.

"My colleagues and I have made clear: the federal government rushed this," Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen told reporters a week ago. "We warned them that this was a rush job. Nevertheless, we had to get ready."

Whether Manitoba's ready or not, legalization is here — and with it, new rules.

Manitobans must be at least 19 years old to legally purchase and use marijuana — a year older than the age of majority for alcohol. Anyone under the age of 19 won't even be allowed to enter legal cannabis stores in the province.

By Tuesday evening, six such stores had received the thumbs-up from Manitoba's cannabis regulator, the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba:

• Delta 9 Cannabis Store (827 Dakota St., Winnipeg);

• Hiku/Tokyo Smoke (55B Goulet St., Winnipeg);

• Meta Cannabis Supply Co./National Access Cannabis (Unit 23, 584 Pembina Highway, Winnipeg);

• Tweed/Canopy (120 Osborne St., Winnipeg);

• Tweed/Canopy (1592 Regent Ave., Winnipeg);

• Tweed/Canopy (1450 Main St. South, Dauphin).

Selling marijuana through unlicensed channels remains illegal. However, as of Wednesday, adult Manitobans can do the following without breaking federal or provincial laws:

• Buy up to 30 grams (1.06 ounces) of dried marijuana at a legal outlet, or order it for home delivery;

• Possess up to 30 grams of marijuana in public;

• Possess any amount of marijuana at home;

• Share up to 30 grams of marijuana with another adult;

• Transport marijuana in the trunk of a car (or behind the back seat of a vehicle such as a van or hatchback), or in a public vehicle such as a taxi or bus;

• Smoke or vaporize marijuana at home or on private property;

• Cook marijuana into an edible form.

It will be illegal to do the following in Manitoba, with a few special exemptions for registered medical cannabis users:

• Buy, sell or possess any amount of "illicit" cannabis (essentially, any marijuana produced or sold illegally);

• Smoke or vaporize marijuana anywhere in public, or in a vehicle;

• Grow any amount of marijuana;

• Give marijuana to someone who's intoxicated;

• Give marijuana to someone younger than 19;

• Drive while impaired by marijuana or any other drug.

• Manitoba's supply of legal cannabis will come from 15 different Health Canada-regulated suppliers, according to provincial wholesaler Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp.

Delta 9 Cannabis and Bonify — the only two Manitoba-based companies licensed by the federal government to grow and sell cannabis — are both on the list, as are bigger players such as Ontario-based Canopy Growth Corp. and New Brunswick-based Organigram.

Dried marijuana bud (the pungent, smokable flower of the female cannabis plant) will be the main product on sale at Manitoba's cannabis stores Wednesday. Pre-rolled joints should also be available, along with a range of cannabis accessories such as bongs, pipes and vaporizers.

Consumers looking for a smoke- or vapor-free option will have to wait until 2019 to legally buy edible cannabis products, although they're welcome to make their own weed-infused food at home. However, some legal cannabis stores may carry ingestible cannabis oils or capsules.

Some of the companies selling legal weed in Manitoba are also producers, but consumers shouldn't expect cheaper prices from those vertically integrated firms.

In order to get their bud from the factory floor into consumers' shopping bags, those companies have to sell it to MLL, buy it back at a markup, then sell it again at retail prices. Manitoba will exempt legal cannabis from provincial sales tax, but the government will start charging cannabis retailers a 6 percent "social responsibility fee" on revenues, beginning in 2019.

Those taxes and markups raise questions about the price of legal cannabis, and whether legalization can achieve Ottawa's goal of diminishing Canada's thriving black market. Although there's no government-mandated price for legal marijuana in Canada, all signs indicate the initial supply will be more expensive than the illicit product cannabis users are accustomed to buying.

In Ottawa, the Liberals' lead minister on the cannabis file told reporters Tuesday federal departments will analyze whether legalization ultimately puts a dent in the black market.

"I think it's important to also acknowledge that's not going to happen on Day 1. It begins to happen tomorrow. But there is a very strong desire and a commitment from the provinces, territories, and from our government to continue to work together to eliminate that market," said Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair.

"For the first time, starting tomorrow, there will be competition in the marketplace. And for adult consumers who choose to use cannabis, they'll have a socially responsible, safer and legal choice."

— with files from Dylan Robertson

This story published with permission by the Winnipeg Free Press, www.WinnipegFreePress.com.