Medical Cannabis Patients Exempt from Ontario’s Smoke Free Ontario Act and E-Cigarette Act

Note: One day after this hit news media headlines, the Liberal party has backtracked by saying they would need to “go back to the drawing board” after complaints from a variety of voices, notably the restaurant industry. This is interesting because medical cannabis patients have always been able to medicate when and where they need to, and this “clarification” was meant to ensure they were exempt from the up and coming law in January (whereas the language of the legislation included a ban against medical use of vaporizing in public spaces). While this is not necessarily a bad thing, we hope that they will continue to work and listen to patient’s needs about when and where they medicate.

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act came into effect on May 31, 2006. On January 1, 2015, it was expanded to include patios, playgrounds and sports fields, and sales on university and college campuses. In a province where tobacco is the number one cause of preventable deaths – killing about 13, 000 Ontario folks each year – and costs the Ontario economy around $1.6 billion for healthcare annually, it makes sense to restrict the exposure of others to tobacco.

The E-Cigarette Act ensures that the sale of electronic cigarettes only happens to those over the age of 19, in line with tobacco regulations, and places some restrictions around advertising and promotion, the sale in certain places, packaging, and most importantly, prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed workplaces, public spaces and other places.

Our next question would then ask how these Acts affect medical cannabis patients in Ontario. Many patients in Ontario, and across Canada, choose to administer their medication through a vaporizer, which heats the plant material up without combustion, thereby providing a safer route of administration over burning plant material. As more patients seek alternatives to the traditional smoking methods, vaporizing has become increasingly popular, and can be framed as a form of harm reduction for patients. Vaporizers are commonly used for dried plant material, but some can also be used for a variety of concentrates as well, and are often a more discrete alternative for patients who need to medicate throughout the day.

While many were worried these Acts would limit where medical cannabis users can medicate using a vaporizer, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) have been advocating for the last 6 months on behalf of patients for a clarification on what this means for Canadians registered with the federal medical marijuana program. In this capacity, CFAMM participated in consultations with the Ministry, with a specific focus on having the two acts amended to protect the interests of medical cannabis users.

As a result, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care announced regulations to amend the Electronic Cigarette Act and the Smoke Free Ontario Act to confirm “that the ban on using an e-cigarette in smoke-free places does not apply to a medical marihuana user who uses an e-cigarette for medical [purposes]”.

This amendment will be important moving forward as the industry continues to grow, anticipating over 400,000 patients in the next decade under the MMPR in Canada. These amendments can also be used as an exemplar for other provinces with similar regulations to ensure patients can medicate using vaporizers when needed.

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