The year 2016 marked the ten year anniversary of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, legislation which ensures that Ontarians are protected from the ill health effects of second hand tobacco smoke. The legislation's success has been remarkable. The smoking rate in Ontario fell from 24.5 per cent in 2000 to 17.4 per cent in 2014. This represents 408,257 fewer smokers in the province.1

In an effort to protect Ontarians from second hand marijuana smoke and vapour, the provincial government is proposing to expand Ontario's second hand smoking legislation to include marijuana. The Smoke-Free Ontario Act (the "Act") currently prevents people from smoking tobacco in public places and workplaces, including schools. However, the legislation is silent on the issue of marijuana. The government's proposed amendments will crack down on public marijuana smoking in a climate where the use of marijuana for medical purposes is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Bill 178: A Marijuana Smoke And Vapour-Free Ontario

The Liberal provincial government has set its sights on marijuana smoke and vapour as the next frontier in establishing a smoke-free Ontario.

Bill 178, entitled Smoke-Free Ontario Amendment Act, 2016, was introduced by the Associate Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dipika Damerla, on March 10, 2016.2 The Bill proposes to expand Ontario's "no smoking rules" to include marijuana smoke and vapour. The Act currently prevents smoking or holding lighted tobacco in various places, including an enclosed public place and an enclosed workplace. If passed, Bill 178 will add a new section to the Act prohibiting smoking or holding a lighted "prescribed product or substance". The proposed amendments will also change the definition of "e-cigarette" to include "e-substance", which would encompass vapourizers.3 Vapourizers are a device that heat marijuana to release its active ingredients without burning the product. They have become a popular way of ingesting medical marijuana. Moreover, the proposed amendments will expand the list of places where e-cigarettes are prohibited for sale and establish rules for the display and promotion of e-cigarettes.4

However, not all of the amendments initiated by Bill 178 would be restrictive on the use of medical marijuana. The proposed changes would also permit parents, guardians and caregivers to supply marijuana e-cigarettes to minors for medical purposes. This would allow parents whose children need marijuana to control serious medical conditions to administer the drug to their children.5 Medical marijuana is used by people who suffer from chronic pain and conditions such as multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, nausea during chemotherapy and migraines.6

Bill 178 is quickly making its way through the legislature. It has been carried through the First and Second Reading and is currently in front of the Standing Committee.7

What Does This Mean For Schools?

The proposed amendments directly affect the use of medical marijuana by students and staff in public and private schools. As it stands, the Act explicitly prohibits smoking or holding lighted tobacco in public or private schools. It states that no person shall smoke or hold lighted tobacco in a school, as defined by the Education Act, or a building or the grounds surrounding the building of a private school.

If passed, Bill 178 will expand the legislation to prevent smoking or holding a lighted prescribed product or substance, such as medical marijuana, while on public or private school property.8 Regardless of whether an individual student or staff member has a prescription for medical marijuana, the proposed second hand smoking legislation will prevent them from lighting up at school.

Support Remains Divided

The proposed amendments have garnered criticism from certain groups as conflating the ill health effects of second hand tobacco smoke with marijuana smoke and vapour. The fact is that the effects of marijuana smoke and, especially, of marijuana vapour remain to be proven. However, the government of Ontario believes that the pre-emptive measures will protect Ontarians from the potential dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping.

The government's proposed changes have received support from the Canadian Cancer Society and the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco. Vice President Public Affairs and Strategic Initiatives for the Ontario Division of the Canadian Cancer Society, stated, "We support the government's proposed changes to Ontario's smoking and vaping legislation. E-cigarettes need to be regulated just like any other tobacco industry product including the restriction of sales to youth and the restriction in promoting and marketing the product. E-cigarettes have not been thoroughly tested and more research is required regarding the product's long-term health effects. The preventive measures announced today are welcome in our fight against cancer."9

Others are less optimistic. Members of the cannabis community in Ontario, including owners of vaping lounges, dispensaries, Cannabis Growers of Canada and other stakeholders criticize the legislation as being overly broad and misinformed. The Cannabis Friendly Business Association, a group created by cannabis-friendly businesses in Toronto and The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada, also opposes the proposed amendments. Critics note that, if passed, Bill 178 will shut down all cannabis lounges and impact cannabis consumers and businesses. These groups and others continue to lobby against the amendment of the Act.10

Despite these criticisms, the proposed amendments would clear the hazy circumstances around the use of medical marijuana in schools. If passed, the amendments will prevent the use of medical marijuana on school property in an effort to protect students and staff from second hand marijuana smoke and vapour.