Ontario medicinal marijuana users will be able to use vaporizers in public after the government announced exemptions to their ban on e-cigarettes.

The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care announced Nov. 23 their intention to amend regulations to the Electronic Cigarette Act and the Smoke Free Ontario Act.

The ministry confirmed “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].”

The new ban goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana executive director Jonathan Zaid worked with officials to advocate for exemption for the medical cannabis community.

“Many patients, including myself, choose to vaporize their medicine, and any prohibition on vaporizer use would have severely limited the ability of patients to use their medication as prescribed,” said Zaid. “I worked with the Ministry of Health and educated them on the use of medical cannabis vaporizers and what it means to patients to be able to use their medication freely, and they came up with this exemption.”

Ontario associate health minister Dipika Damerla said the exemption only applies to those patients using cannabis to treat a recognized medical condition.

“The medical marijuana exemption is obviously very limited — it’s for people who have a doctor’s prescription,” Damerla said. “But equally important to understand that as an employer or a restaurant owner, you can say that there’s no vaping, smoking medical marijuana here.”

Zaid said many provinces are currently going through the process of regulating e-cigarettes and this change to the rules in Ontario could have tremendous impact on how other areas view cannabis in relation to vaporizers.

As far as he was aware, Zaid said Ontario is the first area in the country to explicitly say something about medical cannabis’s connection to vaporizers.

Despite the amendment for medical users, Zaid said it wasn’t the biggest win for the community.

“It’s really the first time that any government in Canada has responded to patients’ needs and really come out with regulations to protect patients’ rights,” said Zaid. “Besides a couple municipalities that have started the regulation of dispensaries, we haven’t seen that on a provincial and federal level yet, other than when pushed through the court.”

“So, really, I think this is a good sign of the times and what’s to come.”

BC Ministry of Health public affairs officer Hannah Lawrie said in an email statement that marijuana remains a controlled substance, and regulating medical marijuana is the responsibility of Health Canada that falls under federal legislation.

 “We introduced the Tobacco Control Amendment Act, which will expand the scope of the Tobacco Control Act to permit regulation of e-cigarettes and associated products,” wrote Lawrie, who detailed that the act would similarly restrict public use of vaporizers with no exemption for medical cannabis users.

“The Tobacco Control Amendment Act does not include provisions for marijuana use,” said  Lawrie. “At this point, B.C. is not working towards exemptions similar to Ontario’s.”

Lawrie said the ministry had welcomed stakeholder review of the proposed regulations until Nov. 20, with the rules now being finalized.

Zaid said of the roughly 24,000 patients registered with Health Canada’s medical marijuana program he doesn’t expect the vast majority to be affected by the use of vaporizers, but appreciated the government’s willingness to consider those that were.

“I think the Ontario government is very willing to work with patients and there’s a lot of be said for that,” said Zaid. “At the same time, without a drug identification number and without regulatory approval there’s still so many hurdles that patients face.”

Zaid said one of the problems with provincial regulations is that they don’t have a category that fits for medical cannabis, which means many patients can’t claim it though their insurance.

“It’s in its own weird category,” said Zaid. “It’s not a natural health product and it’s not a drug or a medicine it’s this thing that we can kind of get access to.”

“Because of that, the province is struggling with it.”

Photo credit: Vaping360