4 Ways The Ontario Survey On Legalization Could Be Improved

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4 ways the Ontario Survey on Legalization could be improved A response to the recent initiative undertaken by the Ontario government to seek opinions on how to implement legalization

On Monday, the Ontario Survey on Cannabis Legalization came to a close after a one month online consultation period. In the next two weeks, the Ontario government will also be holding in-person consultations to get feedback from a variety of stakeholders on the direction of some key policy pieces on how cannabis should be regulated and distributed in the province. It’s great the Ontario government is providing multiple avenues for consultation, but after reviewing the survey, there were a few places where more clarity and design could have been used to offer stronger data on the different policy elements discussed.

  1. The dichotomous option of the  ‘type’ of cannabis user

“Do you consider yourself a medical or recreational cannabis user?”

In one of the first questions, the user is presented 3 options – medical, recreational and prefer not to say.

This may be an unreliable way to frame this important question as research demonstrates that the distinction between medical and recreational is often blurred[1]. Many cannabis users who use it medically also enjoy some of the more recreational aspects of use, and vice versa. Further, although approximately 170,000 people are now registered under the federal medical cannabis program[2], over a decade ago, the Canadian Addiction Survey estimated one million Canadians used it “medically” or “therapeutically”[3]. A more reliable question may be to ask if users are “predominantly medical”, “predominantly recreational” or “prefer not to say,” and also include a follow up for those under the medical category that asks if they are registered with the federal medical cannabis program, the MMPR/ACMPR—or not—since we know many who consider themselves medical users may not be registered with the federal access program.

Additionally, another great follow up question would be to ask where they predominantly currently access their medical supply—LPs, home cultivation (personal or designated), dispensaries, illicit market or other / prefer not to say.

  1. No mention of the criminalization of youth in the age debate:  a key issue when considering age restrictions

“When it comes to setting a minimum age to have, use, and buy cannabis, what are the most important things to you? Select all that apply.”

An important omission in this category is the criminalization of young people who use cannabis. I’ve spoken about this at length elsewhere, but if age restrictions are too high, and young people are our largest cannabis using demographic, we are going to end up criminalizing many otherwise law-abiding young people. Reflected in our ongoing work with Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and conversations on minimum age of access—particularly at our youth-only roundtable and our attendance at the official youth roundtable meeting with the Task Force in Toronto in September 2017—the predominant focus of these conversations, which included both youth and organizations who work with youth, has been on the potential for high age restrictions to criminalize young people who currently use cannabis regardless of the law. This is a primary consideration from a criminal justice standpoint since so many youth are already consuming cannabis despite its illegality in the 18-25 and 12-17 categories in Ontario[4], and they hold the highest percentage of drug-related arrests, predominantly for cannabis possession[5].

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