11.26.2015 09:14 AM

Ontario’s gift to Big Tobacco?

At the outset, let me say that I am a card-carrying Ontario Liberal, and I have worked for the party, off and on, for two decades.

But I am also a citizen who has fought Big Tobacco for just as long. I literally despise them, and I have fought them, because – inter alia – they killed my father.  They’ve killed lots of fathers and mothers and others, in fact.

So what are we to make of this story, which is being reported in many, many places? Is it true?

“For years now it’s been illegal for people to light up in many public places across the province. But that’s about to change, as long as the person smoking has a doctor’s note.

This means medical marijuana users can light up in restaurants, at work or on playgrounds.

As long as they have a doctor’s prescription they’re exempt from the laws that prohibit cigarette smoking and e-cigarette vaping in most public places in Ontario. Dipika Damerla, the Associate Health Minister says these new regulations are about letting people who are very sick or in a lot of pain take their prescribed medication when they need to.”

I have contacted several senior people in the government to find out if this story is true. I’ve contacted long-time opponents of Big Tobacco, like Michael Perley, too. It’s early, and I haven’t heard back.

Is it a case of a junior Minister being ambushed in a scrum? There’s no press release about it on the relevant ministry web site. Is it a case of several reporters getting the facts wrong? That’s possible, but I doubt it.

Whatever the circumstances, rest assured: you’re going to see folks clutching a print out of these news stories, and lighting up in playgrounds, restaurants and showings of The Peanuts Movie near you, starting soon. And you won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.

The problem, here, isn’t about decriminalizing marijuana (because it should be) or medicinal marijuana (because a small minority of people should be permitted to use it). The problem is that Big Tobacco has been waiting for this opening for decades. For them, it is a gift. It rolls back decades of hard work.

Don’t believe me? Here’s researchers Rachel Ann Barry, Heikki Hiilamo and Stanton Glantz, writing in a June 2014 paper in the Milbank Quarterly, which focuses on population health and health policy:

“Since at least the 1970s, tobacco companies have been interested in marijuana and marijuana legalization as both a potential and a rival product. As public opinion shifted and governments began relaxing laws pertaining to marijuana criminalization, the tobacco companies modified their corporate planning strategies to prepare for future consumer demand.

In many ways, the marijuana market of 2014 resembles the tobacco market before 1880, before cigarettes were mass produced using mechanization and marketed using national brands and modern mass media…Legalizing marijuana opens the market to major corporations, including tobacco companies, which have the financial resources, product design technology to optimize puff-by-puff delivery of a psychoactive drug (nicotine), marketing muscle, and political clout to transform the marijuana market.”

And, from pro-weed media:

“Representatives from both British American Tobacco and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said they currently have no plans for expansion into the cannabis market. But the Milbank report – citing recently unearthed documents – found that major cigarette brands began researching cannabis opportunities in the late 1960s and early 1970s despite denying it at the time.

An executive with Philip Morris even asked the Justice Department for samples of marijuana so that it could perform research on the plant. The executive asked the government to keep the request silent. A Justice Department representative reportedly agreed, saying the company could also sidestep the FDA’s review of its plans.

One internal memo from the American Tobacco Co. at the time reports that executives learned Philip Morris was granted a “special permit” to grow and manufacture cannabis extracts. The head science adviser with British American Tobacco even drafted a research plan for cannabis-loaded cigarettes.”

This decision – if it is for real – is a sure-fire formula for confrontation, litigation and lots and lots of class actions. It is a huge, huge mistake.

By all means, let people who are legitimately entitled to use a medicinal product to do so. But not in public places, where smoking as been banned for years – and for good reason, too.

Who’s with me?


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    P. Brenn says:

    I’m with you …cant see why the powers that be dont see what you and others see…would be nightmare in restaurants , public places – you can see big tobacco adding enough weed to smokes to make them medicinal ….enforcment would be nightmare for bylaw and police…yuck…

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    DougM says:

    Public places, no. But there will surely be instances where someone who needs medical marijuana needs to use it at work. Where will that be? Will the employer be obligated to provide a place?

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      Warren says:

      Good question.

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        P. Brenn says:

        tough one….most companies have removed all smoking rooms , related ventilation etc etc …also privacy issues around employers knowing employees personal health issues and requirements

        Does someone have estimate of numbers re medicinal marijuana requirements in terms of folks on /required to be on MJ …

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          cgh says:

          Numbers don’t matter, as the LGBT debate has shown. Special provisions will have to be made even if the number is only one.

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        nobonus4nonis says:

        will you allow for a “kubrick” exemption during our weekly viewings of 2001 🙂

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    Alf Chaiton says:

    You might want to contact the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, joint venture of U of T School of Public Health and CAMH.

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    Devil's Advocate says:

    Smoking marijuana is healthy for the lungs and it cures cancer, man. Legalize weed to be used everywhere and ban TobaKKKo, which is a corporate tool of the Religious Reich wing of the RethugliKKKlan party.

    I wonder if the above snark will get past Kinsella’s team of moderators…

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      Warren says:

      Don’t be an idiot or your IP gets blocked. Last warning.

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    cs says:

    if the tobacco companies are going to mass market marijuana joint/cigarettes for medicinal purposes, how much you want to bet, they will have some very addictive compounds added to the mix:P

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    Harvey Bushell says:

    It would be very difficlut for security personnel at concerts and music clubs or any public gathering really. It’s already difficult enough to weed out (pun intended) those smoking joints in a crowd and either getting them to stop or ejecting them from the premises but having to take the time, in dim lighting, crowded conditions and loud pounding music, to have to check documents would be a logistical nightmare. I also guarantee that there will be those that will share their joints with others around them who do not have a license for medical marijuana making enforcement even more difficult.

    I’d also predict many difficult to prove one way or the other, lawsuits from those that have been accosted at or ejected from said events.

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      Bluegreenblogger says:

      see what happens if you light up a cigarette in a concert. You will probably not get the chance to finish it before someone is ejecting you. Easily dealt with.

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    Mom says:

    Not in public please. I was also under the impression that it was only for E versions. Second hand smoke is still second hand smoke as my family doctor once said.

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    George Pappas says:

    I’m with you…

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    Alex says:

    If true then this new policy is insane. In particular, this could open the door to fake prescriptions being sold. Right now it’s not hard to get fake IDs for underage drinking. Who says that pot smokers won’t be able to get a fake note that they can show to a waitress, bartender, security guard or any other official in order to let them smoke marijuana.

    But even if the doctor’s note is real, anyone who knows about pot is aware that weed smoke is way more dense than cigarette smoke (which is pretty awful itself). Imagine being in a restaurant, bar, park, museum and — why not — even a church and all of a sudden the person next to you starts smoking a joint. Then the produce a note saying this is OK so, pun intended it, suck up the smoke. Suddenly all the progress that we made for the last few decades just went up in flames.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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    Brammer says:

    I was not impressed with big tobacco’s recent ad campaign “contraband tobacco will get your kid shot”

    The ad has you staring down the barrel of a gun against a blood red background. Bit of a stretch, ne pas? Reminded me of “you’re with us or you’re with the child pornographers”

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    Bluegreenblogger says:

    In my business, I have come in contact with a lot of different people building pretty large scale indoor grow ops. Legally. Pretty large scale, as large as half a million square feet of growing space and none of them are big tobacco. My guess is that the recreational market will start out fragmented, with a few dozen brands, then start getting bought out by big tobacco. That is if there is private distribution. If there is a monopoly retailer, like the LCBO, then the independent growers will settle into a cozy oligopoly, busting their humps trying to keep new competition out. Probably better to have a cossetted industry than to have a monster owning it.

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