The Ontario government shouldn’t allow weed lounges to open because society needs more time to gauge the impact of the federal cannabis legalization, Ottawa’s public health unit says.
In a response to a provincial government request for comment on the potential to allow cannabis consumption establishments, medical officer of health Vera Etches wrote that “unintended consequences are not yet known” since legalization only started about a year and a half ago.
“A public health approach to regulating cannabis is needed to minimize the potential health and social harms,” Etches wrote in her response, which has been made public through the release of the health board’s agenda for its meeting next Monday.
“A public health approach requires a long-term commitment to evidence-informed decisions about regulations that prioritizes protecting the public’s health and safety.”
As the COVID-19 crises continues, so does Ottawa Public Health’s advocacy work that’s unrelated to the global pandemic.
While the provincial government probably has more important things on its mind these days than further relaxing cannabis laws, there will come a day when the pre-COVID agenda will fire back up, requiring feedback from agencies like OPH on ideas and proposals.
When it comes to the idea of cannabis consumption establishments and cannabis special events permits, the province’s attorney general started seeking feedback on Feb. 12, weeks before the novel coronavirus concerns and restrictions took hold in Ontario.
The province has said it’s not seeking changes to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act in the consultation related to cannabis lounges. The anti-smoking law restricts any smoking in enclosed workplaces, including restaurants and bars.
But because cannabis edibles have been available for sale in Ontario since Jan. 6, there could be further ways to open the market, like allowing cafes to serve cannabis-infused products.
The City of Ottawa’s top public health advisor doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Etches’s response to the province cites research suggesting that “increased access to these substances leads to an increased prevalence of use and the harms associated with the use of these substances.”
Etches urged the province to protect the restrictions in anti-smoking laws when it comes to consideration of cannabis cafes and lounges and to respect the anti-smoking rules established by the municipal government.
In flagging the risks associated with ingesting cannabis products, Etches asked the province to ban the public consumption of cannabis in the same way it restricts public consumption of alcohol.
“Research is needed to know how cannabis products can be served and consumed in a socially and responsible manner in public,” Etches wrote to the province.
She recommended that the province guard against consumers using cannabis and alcohol at the same establishment.
Municipalities should also get a say on where cannabis lounges are located if the province doesn’t make those rules, Etches wrote.