Canada: Province Goes Against Advice On Cannabis From Public Health Officials Again

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The cannabis bill the McNeil government is currently moving through the Nova Scotia Legislature isn’t as restrictive as the province’s own public health experts recommended, CBC News has confirmed.

“Public Health recommended banning consumption of cannabis in public places where crowds and children frequent,” Health and Wellness spokesperson Tracy Barron in an email to CBC News Tuesday.

Bill 108, the Cannabis Control Act, doesn’t go that far.

It outlaws smoking pot:

• In vehicles.

• In provincial parks and beaches.

• Within 20 meters of playgrounds, publicly owned sport and recreation venues or events.

• Within nine meters of public trails.

Despite repeated claims by Premier Stephen McNeil and cabinet ministers that public safety and the protection of children were paramount as Ottawa moves to legalize marijuana, the concerns of public health officials appear to have been repeatedly ignored.

Going against the grain

The McNeil government did not heed the advice of its own public health officials in choosing the legal age to possess, buy or smoke cannabis. The province decided on 19 years old instead of 21, the age recommended by Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Robert Strang.

The province is also going to sell cannabis in liquor stores against the recommendations of a group representing Canadian chief medical officers of health.

In September 2016, a report from the Urban Public Health Network, representing the consensus view of provincial, territorial and municipal medical officers of health, said while government-run monopolies are the best choice for selling cannabis once it becomes legalized, cannabis shouldn’t be sold alongside alcohol.

Bill 108 was criticized earlier this week when groups representing a variety of Nova Scotia public health organizations offered their views on the proposed law during presentations before the legislature’s law amendments committee.

Kate Johnson of the IWK Health Centre called Nova Scotia’s stance on cannabis smoking “some of the weakest public consumption policies out of all the Atlantic provinces.”

‘Just a bad plan’

Shirley Burdock, executive director of Injury Free Nova Scotia, said it appeared the province was “backtracking” on its efforts to cut smoking rates by normalizing the use of cannabis in public places.

“The last thing we’re wanting to do is to generate more people taking drugs in our province,” she told the all-party committee. “I mean from a population health approach, that’s just a bad plan.”

Tuesday McNeil brushed off the criticism Bill 108 is weak.

“We don’t share that view, that’s a personal view,” he told reporters at Province House. “We believe this is the appropriate response to the consumption piece.

“The reality of it is we’re [going to] restrict where the consumption is and this piece of legislation will do that.”

Provincial Health Minister Randy Delorey echoed that view.

“We’re not encouraging Nova Scotians of any age to consume the product, but we do have a situation where it is becoming legalized at the federal level and we have to respond,” he said.