News / Ottawa

Public health in focus as Ontario details pot legalization plans

Though the plan has been received tepidly by cannabis advocates, Ontario’s legalization framework tracks closely with what public health agencies have been asking for.

A man lights a marijuana joint as he participates in the 4/20 protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, April 20, 2015. The federal government appears ready to take a hands-off approach as provinces begin rolling out how they plan to police the sale and use of marijuana once it becomes legal.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A man lights a marijuana joint as he participates in the 4/20 protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, April 20, 2015. The federal government appears ready to take a hands-off approach as provinces begin rolling out how they plan to police the sale and use of marijuana once it becomes legal.

With Ontario coming out as the first province in Canada to outline its plans for the regulation and sale of legalized cannabis, the implications of that plan are now being closely scrutinized by public health advocates.

While they weren’t able to comment specifically on Ontario’s plan, in a statement Ottawa Public Health spokesperson Donna Casey said that OPH has urged both upper levels of government that “legalizing cannabis should take a public health approach, which would include investments in surveillance and research, health promotion and protection activities and sufficient supports for early identification and treatment.”

In April, after Bill C-45 was first introduced to Parliament, OPH submitted a report to council that made several recommendations about how the city should handle the impending legalization of cannabis. Among these recommendations was a call that the province control distribution and sale.

They also recommended that the sale of edibles be especially restrictively, which the province plans to do. Edible products will not be available in Ontario when cannabis is legalized on July 1, 2018.

While its recommendations were fairly mild, aligning with the province’s cautious tack on the file, OPH carved out a place for itself in the broader discourse, recommending that the federal government “consider a public health approach” to legalization.

The federal government appears to be doing so: on Monday, the parliamentary health committee kicked off a full week of hearings with various stakeholders about the incoming legalization of cannabis.

Taking a public health approach to cannabis legalization will also be a task that falls to city politicians already facing a growing work plan. At a community and protective services meeting in August, Coun. Diane Deans noted that developing comprehensive regulations around cannabis sales, which will need to be developed through close cooperation with OPH and Ottawa police, will be something that committees “already behind on their bylaw file” will have to fast-track.
 

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