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Canadian Province Backpedals On Cannabis Use In Public

The Liberal government in Canada's largest province had set a North American precedent by revising its medical marijuana laws on consuming cannabis in public spaces. But it now looks like it might change its mind.

On Wednesday, Ontario's associate minister of health confirmed that medical users could now smoke or vape cannabis in public - on the street, in public parks, at movie theatres, in restaurants, at sporting events, or even at work. But now it looks like it might change its mind.

On Thursday Dipika Damerla told reporters the government was reconsidering the decision.

"We've heard 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," said Damerla. "[We will] take a hard look and see and make sure that this is in the best interest of Ontario."

The policy would make Ontario a North American leader

The move to liberalise Ontario's policies would separate Canada from the pack. The only other place where people will be able to smoke cannabis publicly is Alaska, which recently approved semi-public consumption at licensed stores. In Colorado, Oregon and Washington, anyone who smokes cannabis publicly is subject to a fine.

Indeed, even in Amsterdam - which is often used as the benchmark for progressive attitudes towards cannabis - the police can and sometimes do fine people for smoking on the sidewalk.

But if the government sticks by its decision, Ontario employers and business owners would still have the right to ban patients from vaping or smoking in their establishments.

"As an employer or a restaurant owner you can say, 'there's no vaping, no smoking of medical marijuana here," Damerla said Wednesday. Patrons would be breaking the law if they refused to stop.

The government is potentially backtracking on a change that was applauded by medical marijuana advocates.

In a press release, Jonathan Zaid, the founder and executive director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, said, "This is another important milestone in the recognition of the legitimacy of the use of cannabis as a medicine."

Opposition politicians had supported the original government decision

Some expressed concerns about patients endangering children by smoking in pubic parks. But those critics surprisingly don't include the provincial government's main opponents.

"If it's for medical purposes, it's for medical purposes," said Patrick Brown, the leader of the official opposition to the Ontario government. "There's not going to be an overwhelming amount of people in Ontario running out to parks to have their medical marijuana."

Meanwhile, provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath took both a sterner and a more lighthearted stance to the issue.

"We know that Health Canada has issued some warnings about exposure of young people to the smoke and vapor of medical marijuana and that's something we have to keep in mind," she said.

But when reporters asked how she would react if someone smoked a joint next to her in a restaurant, she joked, "I'll probably eat more."

h/t CBC, City News, International Business Times.


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