With less than 40 days left for public feedback for the Ontario government before new legislation is drafted to ban the use of medical cannabis in public, members of the community held an emergency meeting to discuss what can be done.
Organized by Roacharama and Hotbox owner Abi Roach in Toronto, the meeting brought together a variety of stakeholders to raise funds for lobbying efforts on Bill 45, Making Healthier Choices Act, which, if it passes, will essentially end the operation of cannabis lounges in the province.
Roach said the meeting drew in 64 cannabis related businesses and over 150 attendees, representatives for everything from dispensaries, people applying for LP licenses, as well as auxiliary services.
“It’s all about trying to keep Ontario businesses alive and still functioning,” said Roach.
Cannabis Growers of Canada executive director Ian Dawkins said his group supported the cause of rallying against the Ontario government’s legislation, which he called a mistake by the province.
“I think that this particular bill is so flawed and and so overly broad,” said Dawkins. “Not only cannabis but also the physical vaporizer, when you categorize all of that under the tobacco regulations it’s not just closing vapour shops, it’s making it so every single dispensary is unable to communicate with their customer about the products.”
Dawkins said that, under the proposed legislation, cannabis would be lumped together with tobacco and dispensaries would be unable to offer information to medical patients. If the ban goes through, Dawkins said a veteran, for example, looking for which medical cannabis strain would help with sleep wouldn’t legally be able to receive any advice.
“That entire conversation that I just sketched out is now illegal under these proposed band, because you can’t talk about tobacco that way,” Dawkins said.
“They’re trying to equate vaping and smoking,” said Horlacher. “They’re cramming a bill through that has no evidentiary basis for being a public health issue and so, naturally, this is going to have a huge impact on the cannabis vapour lounges.”
Horlacher compared vapour lounges to safe injection sites for medical cannabis patients, a place where they’re able to go and feel safe while using their medication.
“Toronto just green-lighted safe injection sites and now here they’re going to get ordered by the provincial government to enforce a bill that is taking out the safe consumption sites for cannabis,” said Horlacher. “So, sure, you can go to a safe place to shoot up heroin, but now all of your safe places to go to consume cannabis are going to get taken away.”
Since the Ontario government faced outcry on their original legislation, which allowed for medical cannabis exemptions, Roach said it’s become important that the cannabis community work to change public opinion on the issue.
With just over a month left to voice their views, attendees decided to act quickly, hiring a professional lobbyist who has already begun setting up meetings with government officials.
The community would like to see medical marijuana pulled out of the act completely and then revisited in legislation specifically dealing with cannabis.
“There’s absolutely no reason that cannabis in any way, shape or form should be under the Smoke Free Ontario Act,” said Dawkins. “If they want to have a conversation about medical safety and the health standards for vapour lounges and making sure that there’s adequate ventilation, fine, let’s have that conversation, that’s a rational conversation, but to just outlaw consuming cannabis blanket in such a broad way, it doesn’t make sense.”
Going forward, Roach said the plan is to unite the cannabis industry in Ontario, which she has seen explode since entering it herself 16 years ago.
“When I opened there were two shops in Toronto and then, last night, we couldn’t even fit a fifth of the people in the industry in the room,” Roach said.
“This is the biggest province and the most money goes out of this province, so the whole country is looking at what we’re doing. If the Ontario legislation goes through, the is a mark for every other province to say ‘well, this worked in Ontario, let’s put it in ours.'”
Dawkins said, even if the legislation somehow is adopted as it now stands in Ontario, he can’t see it moving out of the province.
“None of these educated conversations about medical cannabis can now happen, so I don’t see this law moving beyond Ontario because I don’t think this law will stand in Ontario. It’s a slam dunk court challenge,” he said.
Roach said those looking to help the Ontario cannabis community can send a letter or email to the government voicing their opposition on the ban.