04/07/2016 11:08 EDT | Updated 04/08/2017 05:12 EDT

Protect Medical Marijuana Patient Rights In Bill 45 Debate

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Prescription for medical marijuana from family health care doctor

The province of Ontario introduced legislation in 2015 to control the growing e-cigarette market with Bill 45, called the Making Healthier Choices Act.

As reported, the legislation had originally intended to exempt medicinal marijuana patients from the legislation, but that decision was quickly reversed amid what was no doubt a public outcry over the possibility of second-hand exposure.

Once implemented, it would put medicinal marijuana under the same regulations as tobacco products under the Smoke Free Ontario Act.

I am in full agreement and support of the proposed changes to control the sale of e-cigarettes, but as I have written before, I can't agree with lumping in medicinal cannabis patients.

There is an opportunity over the next few weeks during the consultation of the implementation of Bill 45. This opportunity pertains to increasing harm reduction efforts, educating the public and policy makers and regulating the cannabis industry that is operating in legal limbo.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has made it clear she is in support of safe injection sites as part of a harm reduction strategy.

There are numerous opportunities ahead in the debate over Bill 45, but none more important that the opportunity to do the right thing and protect patient rights.

Safe injection sites are locations where drugs can be injected safely with support of nurses and in a sterile environment.

Let's be clear, these are drugs that will never be legalized in any way. The cost to society of treating overdoses, deaths related to overdoses and infectious diseases like AIDS, and reducing the public health and safety impact of drug use means this harm reduction strategy is good public policy.

It seems odd that while the premier supports safe spaces for illicit drug use, her health ministry is pushing licensed cannabis patients out into the cold. Safe spaces for cannabis education and treatments, like those offered by Ontario's cannabis lounges, is also good public policy and should be reconsidered.

There is also a great opportunity for education about the differences between cannabis and tobacco "juice." Vaporizers and pens that are used for tobacco "juice" cannot be used for delivery of medicinal cannabis.

If someone is using a vaporizer with "juice" in it, it's not cannabis -- the two technologies are different and can't be confused as regulators and the public believe. By granting the medicinal exemption, you are not opening the door to rampant vaping of tobacco and "normalizing smoking" again, as has been stated.

Law enforcement, inspectors and other officials who might be enforcing the changes to the Smoke Free Ontario Act should know these differences.

The last opportunity being presented by this debate is one for regulation, which the cannabis industry truly needs. Associations like the Cannabis Friendly Business Association (CFBA), the Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada (CTAC) and others have been established to set standards and codes of conduct, and professionalize the industry as it deals with growing demands for medicinal cannabis ahead of the legal adult use market coming to Canada.

Working with these associations to establish and fine tune these standards would benefit the government and save time and resources when legal cannabis use is a reality.

The national debate about legal adult use cannabis has just begun, but medicinal cannabis patient rights are well established.

There are numerous opportunities ahead in the debate over Bill 45, but none more important that the opportunity to do the right thing and protect patient rights.

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