Ontario Report Urges Immediate Decriminalization (and Many Other Things)

One of the many distinctive (and divisive) features of the Cannabis Act—which proposes to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis across Canada in July 2018—is how it leaves the specifics of cannabis distribution, possession, and purchase up to the individual provinces.

This week, Ontario took a step toward creating its own regs with the release of “Cannabis Legalization and Regulation,” a report by the Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). The report provides provincial officials with “wide-ranging recommendations to reduce the health risks and harms associated with the legalization and regulation of cannabis.”

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The most notable of those recommendations: immediate decriminalization. “Given the plans for legalization of cannabis in 2018,” the report states, “decriminalization of cannabis for simple possession for the general population should be considered immediately in the coming months prior to legalization.”

That policy advice came in the report’s “Focus on Health Equity” section, which also includes this observation: “Currently, there are systemic inequalities leading to the criminalization of marginalized groups for cannabis possession, which account for thousands of arrests and convictions every year. Arrests for cannabis possession continue to take place, often disproportionately impacting marginalized communities across the country.”

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Other recommendations range from revenue mandates (the CMHA urges allocating 100 percent of cannabis-related revenue to mental health and addictions services) to the minimum age for cannabis purchase, which the CMHA would like to align with the Ontario’s legal age for purchasing alcohol (19). A few notable passages from the 5,000-word document:

* The “Regulating Sales” section puts forth an impressively intricate recipe for doing so, from restricting advertising to the same cartoon- and endorsement-free zone occupied by tobacco marketers, to ensuring “appropriate and reasonable pricing to deter consumers from purchasing cannabis through illegal means.” The CMHA would also have cannabis distributors earn the title: “Distribution of cannabis should include the provision of cannabis education to patrons through the implementation of a Cannabis Card program, similar to Ontario’s Smart Serve program.”

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* In the “Road Safety” section, things get strict, with the CMHA urging a zero-tolerance policy for cannabis consumption in any motorized vehicle. “A zero-tolerance policy would include both the driver of the motorized vehicle, as well as any passengers in the car,” reads the report. “It is important that a clear message be sent to the public as soon as possible regarding zero tolerance for impaired driving due to cannabis use.”

* Tagged onto the section addressing the Minimum Age for Purchase is this bracing proposition: “The Government of Ontario should advocate with the Federal Government to remove criminalization for simple possession of cannabis, especially for youth. CMHA recommends further research into a model similar to the Portugal’s decriminalization policy for young people that would allow for social services, counseling and education instead of criminal sanctions for underage cannabis possession.”

Read the full CMHA Ontario report here.

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