To mark 4/20, a local man is bringing attention to his court challenge against Manitoba’s prohibition on non-medical homegrown cannabis.
On the steps of the legislative building, Jesse Lavoie was joined by the leaders of the three opposition parties Tuesday afternoon where he presented his ‘Toba Grown’ flag, signed by dozens of dispensary and head shop owners from across the province.
“It’s unity. When I walk in (the shops) with the flag, their eyes are brightening up, everyone is excited about it, every single staff in the store is throwing a message on there, and everyone can’t believe that we’re not allowed to grow here,” Lavoie says.
“All I want is for Manitobans to have their federal right, which is the ability to grow up to four cannabis plants for personal use. I’m not asking for more than that.
“I just want Manitobans to have that right and for the Manitoba government to align with the rest of the country.”
In 2019, Manitoba became the only province in Canada still prohibiting personal cultivation, after a Quebec judge struck down similar legislation.
The Quebec government filed an appeal not long after.
April also marks one year since Lavoie started preparing for the long road of challenging the government in court.
Lavoie says the lawsuit officially began in August 2020, and since then he has filed several affidavits contesting the province’s various reasons for keeping the ban in place.
In an email statement, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen says the government has children’s safety top of mind.
“Cannabis use is not without risks, particularly for young people as it is known to affect brain development and can lead to depression and anxiety especially when used in early teens,” Friesen writes.
“Our government has prohibited cultivating non-medical cannabis at home. We’ve also recently introduced legislation that prohibits the consumption of cannabis, including edibles, in public places. Actions like these demonstrate that our government wants to get it right when it comes to cannabis and keeping our communities safe.”
The minister added he wasn’t able to comment further since the issue is before the courts.
However, Lavoie maintains the legislation is “provincial discrimination.”
“If you go a little to the west or a little to the east to another province, you can put four seeds in the ground, like every other Canadian, but here in Manitoba you get a $2,500 fine if you get caught growing four plants or less,” Lavoie says.
“It’s not right.”
Meanwhile, opposition NDP leader Wab Kinew says there’s simply better things Manitoba could be spending resources on.
“The fact it was struck down in another province I think reveals that it’s kind of a losing court battle,” Kinew says.
“That’s why I think those resources instead of being used in court would be better used actually trying to fight the illegal grow ops that are causing problems in a lot of communities.”
Green Party leader James Beddome agrees the tax dollars could be better spent elsewhere, adding Manitoba may miss out on some economic opportunities if the ban remains in place.
“When we look at it right now, Canada is sort of a global leader on what could be a very burgeoning industry in the next 10 to 20 years, so where does Manitoba want to be situated for those opportunities?” Beddome says.
“In terms of our hotel and hospitality industry, our tourism industry, and also research and development of products, healthcare, therapeutic and other products.”
A lawyer himself, Beddome says it’s difficult to predict how the cards may fall with Lavoie’s court case.
“I learned long ago it’s so hard to predict how a court will rule, but I have looked at the Quebec ruling. I think there’s a chance it could be successful,” Beddome says.
“What you ultimately could see is both of these cases before the Supreme Court one or two years down the road, and how it would end up is probably anyone’s guess. But why? Why put all those resources in right now when there’s so many higher priority targets?”
But the wheels of the justice system spin slowly, and Lavoie says he doesn’t expect to be back in court until January.
In the meantime, he left the door open for Premier Brian Pallister to change his mind.
“(Pallister) was more than welcome to come down here, there’s a spot on the flag if he wants to throw his signature or message down,” Lavoie says.
“Just give me a call and we’ll set it up.”