News / Toronto

Medical marijuana users steamed by ban after Ontario u-turn

Medical marijuana users are hopping mad about Ontario’s new curbs on toking and vaping for medicinal purposes.

AP

Medical marijuana users are hopping mad about Ontario’s new curbs on toking and vaping for medicinal purposes.

As first disclosed by Torstar, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government is banning the use of cannabis in all enclosed public places, workplaces, and most outdoor areas.

Queen’s Park is also moving to treat e-cigarettes as it does tobacco.

“We have made a determination that smoking — whatever it is, whether it’s vaping, whether it’s medical marijuana, whether it’s cigarettes — there should be restrictions on that,” Wynne said in the rain at a muddy construction site on the Eglinton Crosstown line on Thursday.

She told reporters the government made the right decision and is prepared to defend it if, for example, the ban is challenged in the courts by medical marijuana users arguing the need for their prescribed pot is no different than any other prescription.

“That’s a possibility I suppose, but I think it’s pretty commonsensical that, if you’re not allowed to smoke a cigarette, you shouldn’t be allowed to smoke anything else in the places where we have already deemed that smoking cigarettes is not acceptable.”

Jonathan Zaid, founder and executive director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, said “obviously we are a little bit disappointed.”

“The government has failed to consider medical marijuana users at all really in this change,” said Zaid, whose organization speaks for the estimated 23,000 medical marijuana users in Canada.

“It’s totally the opposite of last time,” he said, referring to the Liberal government’s original, more permissive stance.

Russell Barth, a medical marijuana user in Ottawa, warned that many patients will not abide by the ban, because it contravenes provincial and federal human-rights legislation.

“I’m not going to obey this rule,” said Barth, who uses cannabis to help his anxiety and whose wife, Christine Lowe, uses a vaping pen with marijuana to alleviate seizures in emergencies.

“There will be an immediate court challenge. This is like taking away an epipen,” he said, referring to epinephrine auto-injectors that are in widespread use for many allergies and ailments.

Associate Minister of Health Dipika Damerla said there are still too many unknowns when it comes to the effects of vaping and cannabis smoking.

“It is important to ensure that Ontarians are protected from second-hand smoke and from the potential dangers of e-cigarettes,” said Damerla.

“That is why we are proposing these changes and we look forward to the upcoming consultations with our stakeholders,” she said.

Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, praised the government for acting on vaping.

“Although the health damages of tobacco products are both severe and well-understood, many questions still remain about e-cigarettes,” said Perley.

“Given these many uncertainties, (we) strongly support the precautionary restrictions being put in place by the provincial government,” he said.

Rowena Pinto, Ontario vice-president of public affairs and strategic initiatives for the Canadian Cancer Society, said “the preventive measures announced today are welcome in our fight against cancer.”

Thursday’s change is a U-turn from last November when the government initially released regulations that would allow people to smoke or vape medical marijuana in any public place where smoking is otherwise prohibited.

That included restaurants, offices, movie theatres, stadiums, even children’s playgrounds.

But toking and vaping will now be prohibited in those areas, as well as bar patios, schoolyards, condominium common areas, and hospital grounds.

Under Damerla’s revisions, the government “will expand the list of places where e-cigarettes are prohibited for sale” to include college and university campuses and “establish rules for the display and promotion of e-cigarettes in places where they are sold and prohibit the testing of e-cigarettes where they are sold.”