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Ontario Tells Medical Marijuana Users They Can Light Up Anywhere — And Then Changes Its Mind

"We've heard about the concerns around this regulation and we're going to take this feedback and see if this regulation is the best way to move forward," the associate health minister said Thursday.

by Rachel Browne
Nov 26 2015, 5:30pm

Image via Flickr Creative Commons

One day after the Ontario government announced people with medical marijuana prescriptions would allowed to light up anywhere they want in the province, the government says it wants to reconsider the decision. 

"We've heard about the concerns around this regulation and we're going to take this feedback and see if this regulation is the best way to move forward," Associate Health Minister Dipika Damerla said Thursday.

She added that the province will "take a hard look and see and make sure that this is in the best interest of Ontario."

The decision to exempt medical weed users from a law that prohibits e-cigarette use in certain public places apparently raised concerns about them having free reign to smoke or vaporize their medicine at work, and near schools. 

It's not clear if the exemption is still in place while the government reconsiders. 

On Wednesday, Damerla, told reporters that the decision came after consultations with the medical community and health advocates. "This is about the fact that somebody who's very ill, maybe in a lot of pain, wants to use. There are many ways to take marijuana. This is one way," she said.

However, Damerla also said Wednesday that business owners would still have the final say over what's allowed on their premises, and could ask for proof of a prescription. "As an employer and a restaurant owner, you can say that there is no vaping, no smoking of medical marijuana."

Related: Trudeau Hailed 'The Best Thing' That's Ever Happened to Canadian Weed

Marijuana advocates praised the exemption as another step forward in removing the stigma associated with marijuana use, and recognizing it as a valid form of medicine.

Jonathan Zaid, from the Canadians of Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, told the Canadian Press he doubts there will be a noticeable increase in the number of people smoking in public.

"Everyone that I know, including myself, who uses medical cannabis is discreet about it," he said. "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."

Patrick Brown, leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, echoed Zaid. "I'm not going to go so far as to say it's a recipe for chaos," said Brown.

Using marijuana in any form without a prescription is illegal in Canada. According to the Canadian Cancer Society website, "marijuana users and people exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke may have many of the same health problems as people exposed to cigarette smoke, including an increased risk of cancer."

Related: 'The Time Has Come': Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill Makes It to the Federal Level

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society told VICE News that not much changes under the new regulations, as there was never a province-wide ban on smoking medical marijuana. But, he says he does not support the new exemption.

"There is clearly a beneficial role for medical marijuana, but that doesn't need to be consumed beside an office worker or at a McDonald's restaurant," he said. "There are other ways to consume medical marijuana other than smoking or vaping."

"We want to minimize exposure to second-hand smoke and we've made great progress with respect of that over the years … And that's an approach that makes sense and should be continued."

New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath told reporters she is also concerned about the impacts of second-hand marijuana smoke, and plans to review the regulations.

When asked how she would react to someone smoking medical weed next to her in a restaurant, she quipped she would "probably eat more."

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne 

Image via Flickr user Dank Depot