WINNIPEG — “I’ve never seen this before.”
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, sitting in his legislature office for a year-end interview, is looking at a 15-ml container of cannabis spray. It’s one of the ways through which recreational cannabis can be consumed since legalization in October.
It is discreet, quick, smokeless and — perhaps surprisingly under Manitoba law — legal to consume in most public places.
“My lunch could be really good,” Pallister jokes before handing it back to the reporter who brought it to him.
The premier has said on more than one occasion he’s more of a beer man.
Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government is not alone in having to adjust to the complex realities of legalized recreational cannabis.
Across the country, governments have had to set down rules on where pot can be smoked, vaped, dripped, sprayed, eaten and sold. Police forces scrambled to get equipment to test motorists for the drug.
Pallister considers the Manitoba model for retail outlets a success. The province charges a wholesale markup and regulates distribution and sales, while the private sector operates the stores. And while every province has experienced supply shortages, retailers in Manitoba have not faced the same scarcity as those in Quebec, Ontario and other jurisdictions.
More than a dozen stores opened in Manitoba in the weeks following legalization. They are run by four companies that had been selected earlier.
Pallister expects more retailers to be approved in the new year with the aim of eating into the long-established black market.
“We’ve got to get the black market out of this stuff, or (else) why are we doing it?”
One area where Manitoba has been caught off guard is in public consumption. Many other provinces have banned using cannabis in any form in most public areas, but Manitoba’s law was written specific to smoking or vaping (except in vehicles, boats and schools, where all consumption is prohibited).
As a result, it’s open season for cannabis oil, sprays, gels and capsules.
“I thought oils were with edibles and not available until next year (under federal law),” Pallister said.
The federal government delayed legalizing sales of edibles until sometime in 2019, although people are already allowed to make their own with legally purchased cannabis.
Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen has said the province is considering expanding the ban on public consumption to cover all forms of cannabis. Pallister said a decision has not yet been made.
“We’ll have to inquire and find out.”