Provincial fines for cannabis violations will be expensive

The federal Cannabis Act sets out all sorts of new penalties for violating Canada’s non-medical weed law, ranging from fines to prison time.

But Canadians should remember that Ottawa isn’t the only government with the power to punish cannabis-related transgressions — provinces have been busy establishing their own fines on top of the federal law.

Take Manitoba’s proposed provincial cannabis penalties, reported yesterday by Steve Lambert of the Canadian Press.

Getting caught using cannabis in a public place or in a provincial park could cost Manitobans $672, according to new regulations and fine rates set out in the latest publicly available list of provincial fine categories, which is dated 2017.

Cultivating any amount of cannabis at home in Manitoba, selling cannabis without a licence, or giving cannabis to someone under the age of 19 could result in a fine of $2,542.

That $2,542 penalty could also be slapped on Manitobans who supply cannabis to an intoxicated person, or those who “give, sell or otherwise supply cannabis to a person who is not authorized to sell cannabis knowing that the person intends to sell it.”

Even crimes such as making an unauthorized purchase of cannabis or unlawful transportation of cannabis in a boat could result in a fine in Manitoba to the tune of $672 and $237, respectively.

Manitoba is far from the only province to implement special fines for cannabis violations. In Prince Edward Island, for example, fines for violating the provincial cannabis law start at $200 for basic transgressions and increase to as much as $10,000 for illegal cannabis sales (or more, for repeat offenders).

British Columbians will be allowed to grow cannabis at home, but could be fined up to $5,000 for having their legal cannabis gardens visible from a public place.

Getting fined for using cannabis in a public place in Ontario could cost you up to $1,000 for the first offence. In Saskatchewan, consuming cannabis in a public place is worth a $200 ticket — or $1,000, for consuming cannabis at a school, on school grounds or at a childcare facility.

Optimists might say provincial fines for cannabis violations are less harmful than federal criminal penalties, no matter how expensive the fines are. But it’s worth noting that getting a ticket for a provincial cannabis offence can lead to other negative consequences, as The Leaf News reported in May.

As criminologist Akwasi Owusu-Bempah pointed out in that Leaf News article, marginalized communities such as the poor and people of colour tend to be especially affected by police enforcement of drug laws.

Presumably, those people might be more likely to get fined for provincial cannabis offences, and less likely to be able to actually pay the fines.