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Ontario May Allow Medical Cannabis Patients to Consume in Public

As Canada’s new Liberal government digs into the reality of regulating a legal marijuana platform nationwide, the tides of change are already emerging via a new announcement in Ontario that could let medical marijuana patients vape or smoke joints in public.

Associate Health Minister Dipika Damerla made an exemption to a ban on the use of vaporizers and/or e-cigarettes for medical marijuana patients. The ban on e-cigarettes applies to anywhere that regular cigarettes are prohibited, including restaurants, workplaces, parks, and playgrounds, and goes into effect January 1, 2016. With an Authorization to Possess (ATP), however, medical marijuana patients could, in theory, start puffing in any old spot, whether it’s on a joint or a vaporizer, if they felt so inclined.

Restaurants and other proprietors retain the right to overrule the exemption, as well as the right to request to see patients’ authorization if they are using cannabis on private premises. Nonetheless, the new exemption is a relief for many patients, but has caused a predictable backlash from citizens concerned for public health and secondhand smoke or vapor.

Damerla responded to the inquiries to clarify the reason for the exemption:

“Somebody who really needs it for medical reasons may need to be able to smoke it or vape it. On the other hand, we are very sensitive to people around them. It really is about balancing those rights…The exemption is about letting people who are very sick or in a lot of pain to take their prescribed medication when they need to.”

After receiving concerned feedback from the public, Ontario’s government will re-examine the decision, although Damerla defended the exemption, as there is no scientific evidence that secondhand marijuana vapor has any negative health effects on bystanders. Also, omitting an exemption for medical marijuana patients from the new e-cigarette ban could raise issues of constitutionality.

This might seem like a big change, but founder of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana Jonathan Zaid says that this shouldn’t change much, as before the new e-cigarette regulation passed, there were no regulations pertaining to vaporizer use. “The provincial government is taking a big step forward and actually recognizing medical marijuana as a legitimate medicine,” he said.

As for public health concerns, Zaid expressed his belief that the immediate worries were relatively unfounded. “Everyone I know, including myself, who uses medical cannabis is discreet about it. They just want to use it as their medicine to feel better, to live a better quality of life, and they don’t want to be harassed about it, so that also means they’re not typically likely to do it in a very public space.”

This is just one step on Canada’s path to legalization. What’s up next?