[Civilized – James McClure] Medical marijuana patients in Ontario are angered and dismayed by the provincial government’s 180 on vaping rights. Just last November, Associate Minister of Health Dipika Damerla announced that patients would be allowed to vape in public – including at movie theatres, restaurants, sporting venues and public parks, unless site managers specifically banned patrons from doing so.
The decision made Ontario the most progressive on the rights of marijuana patients in North America, let alone Canada. The legal states in America ban public consumption, for medical or recreational use. The only exception is Alaska, which has passed regulations allowing people to consume marijuana onsite at certain retail stores.
However, Ontario’s stint as a trailblazer on the issue was brief: the day after making the announcement, Damerla said that the government was reconsidering its policy.
Now they’ve put that progressive stance in reverse, banning patients from smoking or vaping their medicine in all enclosed public spaces, workplaces and most outdoor areas.
“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,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters on March 10.
“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.”
Vaping isn’t smoking
But vaping offers a cleaner, more discrete and healthier way to consume cannabis. It shouldn’t be lumped together with smoking, or with e-cigarettes, argues Jon Liedtke – a marijuana patient and co-owner of Higher Limits vape lounge in Windsor, ON.
Health Canada also specifically discourages patients from smoking marijuana because of potential health effects. So patients are rightfully annoyed to see the provincial government treating vaping and smoking as the same thing.
Liedtke says that the problem stems from the government failing to consult with activists and advocates about the issues.
“This legislation is being dictated by external parties who have no knowledge about cannabis,” says Liedtke. “They have no idea what’s going on – what medical marijuana does, what it’s impacts are and how it’s used.”
Patients and advocates plan to fight back
Some patients are planning to protest the ban in public and in the courts:
“I’m not going to obey this rule,” Ottawa resident Russell Barth told The Toronto Star. “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.
Those patients will have advocates among owners of vapour lounges, which will be targeted by the new ban.
And Barthes has an unlikely ally in the cause. Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Hillier has long fought for the rights of vapers and e-cigarette users. He’s ready to take up this cause next.
“Anybody who wants to quit smoking, anyone who wants to do less harm to themselves, anyone who wants to take medicinal marijuana in a less harmful fashion – a less intrusive manner for others – they’re all being thrown under the bus at the same time,” says Hillier.
As are the owners of stores in the vaporizer industry, whose businesses will be severely restricted due to the ban.
“You can show a prospective client how it works, but where we are saying ‘no’ is you shouldn’t be able to actually vape it in the store,” said Associate Minister Damerla.
The ban would also shutter Higher Limits and similar businesses in the province. “Effectively, this would shut down every vapour lounge in the province of Ontario,” Liedtke says.
He also says the legislation will have severe effects on patients who can’t smoke in their own homes.
“We have a patron who lives in public housing,” Liedtke – the co-owner of Higher Limits vapour lounge told Civilized. “He’s asking what happens when this legislation goes through because public housing is considered a public space, even though it’s a residence. So he won’t be able to consume his medication at home. Effectively, what this government is doing is making it impossible for some of our most vulnerable patients to use their medicine.”