03/17/2016 10:22 EDT | Updated 03/18/2017 05:12 EDT

The Liberals' Vaping Laws Are Anything But Common Sense

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This post originally appeared on Lift Cannabis News Magazine.

Last week, Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals announced that e-cigarette and medical cannabis users will be banned from vaporizing and smoking anywhere regular cigarettes are prohibited. Treating cannabis as tobacco is not only bad science, this new legislation serves to alienate thousands of medical cannabis users in the province.

Originally, these new e-cigarette rules were supposed to come into effect by January 1. This was also around the time the Liberals announced these new rules would include a medical cannabis exemption. Once it was quickly equated to "the allowance for medical cannabis users to smoke just about anywhere," the government quickly retreated.

Instead of providing clear and accurate information about the rights of property owners and pointing to the fact that medical cannabis patients have always held on to this "quiet right" (although not often exercised), they went back to the drawing board.

Wynne has called the new regulations "common sense," and Associate Health Minister Dipika Damerla has stated this "strikes a balance" between the rights of medical cannabis users and other Ontarians, but I fail to see a fair and just consideration of medical cannabis users' rights in the equation.

It leaves medical cannabis users with very few, if any, courses of action or reasonable accommodation for medicating if they are out in public spaces. I am not advocating for a "free-for-all" -- but at the very least this new legislation needs to consider that people don't have control over when their medical conditions affect them.

On the issue of extracts and concentrates, it's incorrect to state that medical cannabis users "can just consume another cannabis product in public." The administration of different types of cannabis products produces varying outcomes and effects because the THC is absorbed differently.

Many medical cannabis patients prefer smoking or vaporizing because the onset of effect is very quick, whereas using an edible could take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours for it to be felt.

From a government who promised us "evidence-based policy," this is clearly a move based more on political rhetoric than the state of the evidence.

This is tied to a larger framework of the use of vaporizers as a harm reduction tool, particularly for medical cannabis users. Up until very recently, licensed producers of medical cannabis only sold cannabis in dried form -- meaning you smoke it.

Many patients have turned to vaporizing as a way to reduce the harms of smoking cannabis -- a discrete way of releasing the active ingredients without burning the plant material to the point of combustion.

More recently, seven of the 30 licensed producers of cannabis under the federal medical cannabis program have been granted a very small window to produce cannabis oils (with a THC cap of 30 mg/ml) after a Supreme Court decision allowing patients to possess cannabis in any form.

Access to other cannabis products, aside from the dried cannabis one would smoke or vaporize, is largely commercially inaccessible (legally) to patients, particularly as a standardized and tested product.

There is little to no concrete evidence that secondhand smoke and vapour from medical cannabis is at all comparable to e-cigarettes, and certainly not to smoking tobacco, but there are studies that support the fact that cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic, so why are we treating them as if they are the same?

In fact, there are important differences in the pharmacological properties of cannabis and tobacco smoke, and cannabis smoke has not been causally linked to cancer.

In fact, the Volcano Medic (considered the "Cadillac" of all medical vaporizers) is an approved medical device in Canada. It is not to say these are risk-free, just that their effect is not comparable to the effects of tobacco and lacks causal evidence demonstrating their risks.

If the legislation is passed, it means that medical cannabis users will not be able to use their medicine, even in vaporized form, in stadiums, hospitals, condominium common areas, restaurant and bar patios, effectively restricting their access to and reasonable enjoyment of a large majority of public spaces.

While I am not suggesting that medical cannabis users have the ability to light up anywhere, there are many cases of Canadians who need immediate dosing. For example, those with illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or epilepsy may need to use their medicinal cannabis for rapid relief during an outing.

The point is this: Medical cannabis is not tobacco.

From a government who promised us "evidence-based policy," this is clearly a move based more on political rhetoric than the state of the evidence. Finding a true balance between medical cannabis users and the general public means fair legislation that both respects the rights of the public to not be exposed to cannabis, but doesn't exclude medical cannabis user's participation in public spaces.

Importantly, the Liberals are opening up the legislation to a 45-day consultation period, but one thing is for sure: common sense doesn't seem very common when it comes to the treatment of medical cannabis patients in Canada.

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