Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
Late last month, about 2,500 pages of documents landed on the desks of Manitoba government officials.
The documents contained eight affidavits and the package was courtesy of Jesse Lavoie, a 28-year-old former correctional officer, who has filed a constitutional challenge against the Manitoba government’s ban on home growing. Lavoie is represented by attorneys from the MLT Aikins law firm.
Under the federal Cannabis Act, Canadians are legally allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants per residence. Unless they live in Quebec or Manitoba, that is, where provincial governments moved to ban home cultivation.
In 2019, a Quebec Superior Court Justice struck down the provincial law prohibiting home growing but the province is appealing that decision. In the meantime, Quebecers are still prohibited from growing cannabis at home, or from possessing a cannabis plant.
Lavoie believes that “everyone should be allowed their federal right to grow.”
Manitobans that are caught growing cannabis — and at least one person in the province has been charged with cultivation since cannabis was legalized — face a $2,500 fine and all the implications that come with it, including potential issues crossing the border.
“I’m very surprised that the Manitoba government is putting so much time and assets into fighting this ban, even though it’s been proven unconstitutional in Quebec,” Lavoie says.
Lavoie was prescribed medical cannabis in 2017 following a violent workplace incident that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder and altered his career focus. He moved on from law enforcement and is currently employed as an account manager with Canopy Growth.
He’s clear, though, that the fight for home cultivation is a personal one, and has nothing to do with his day job. He has started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover his litigation costs.
Lavoie is intimately aware of the expenses associated with medical cannabis. His prescription called for five grams a day and his own preferred cultivar goes for about $15 a gram at legal retailers.
“Being able to harvest upwards of one hundred grams per cannabis plant every three to four months would drastically cut down my monthly cannabis costs,” Lavoie writes in an affidavit that he filed in October 2020.
And though Manitobans have been denied the right to grow cannabis at home for 28 months now, Andrew Hathaway, associate professor at the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences at the University of Guelph, says “there’s a hint of hope on the horizon.”
Hathaway has been studying cannabis markets for the last 25 years and submitted expert testimony. His affidavit was focused on refuting the Manitoba government’s position that allowing home growing would foster greater illicit market activity.
“Apparently the federal government and all the other provinces feel otherwise,” Hathaway says. “They landed on the fact that (home growing) was a measure that further undercut the illicit market because it allowed for a relatively inexpensive option for people to legally grow their own source of supply.”
Beyond the potential of homegrown cannabis being diverted to the illicit market, Hathaway says the government offers additional arguments focused on health and safety issues and potential home damage caused by cultivation. All arguments, he notes, that have been made before.
“It ultimately comes down to an argument of, yes, presumably, there is a higher potential for harm in allowing for a greater scope of freedom, but it doesn’t ultimately meet the threshold where it warrants the government’s intrusion into this domain,” he says, adding that the Manitoba government position seems to be born from ideological beliefs. “Being a conservative provincial government, there was probably a lot more resistance in terms of the adoption of the federal strategy on legalizing cannabis. So this was one way to come up with something more restrictive and assert that conservative ideological argument of protecting children and those kinds of things.”
The problem, he says, is that argument is logically inconsistent with the spirit of legalization. “By providing a regulated source of supply, you’re actually reducing a lot of those harms,” he says.
Neil Boyd, a professor and director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, also provided expert testimony in the January affidavits.
He says the “extreme position” of the Manitoba government banning home cultivation cannot be justified.
“My argument is really, why would you need to have an outright prohibition?” Boyd tells The GrowthOp. “Other provinces have a series of procedures in place. It’s not just carte blanche that everybody can grow four plants. It depends on the circumstance.”