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?