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Ontario public health unit issues resolution on legalizing marijuana

An Ontario public health unit is getting ahead of federal promises to legalize marijuana by issuing resolutions on how to regulate the drug.

'We want to be more proactive than reactive,'

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit wants to see marijuana regulations that keep legalized marijuana out of the hands of children and drivers.

An Ontario public health unit is getting ahead of federal promises to legalize marijuana by issuing resolutions on how to regulate the drug. 

Officials from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit outlined their concerns in a report last week. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it a campaign promise to legalize the drug. Former Toronto police chief, turned Liberal M-P Bill Blair is leading an investigation into what regulations might be adopted.

"From a public health perspective, if we can't get rid of something, let's look at how we can use it safely," said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the health unit's associate officer of health.  

Drawing on data from Statistics Canada that suggests 12 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 use marijuana, the health unit says regulations need to keep the drug out of the hands of youth and away from drivers.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed says he wants to see a plan for regulating marijuana in place before marijuana is legalized. (CBC)

"If we think marijuana is not going away, we need to regulate it in a way that the people who want to use it safely can use it without affecting others," Ahmed said.

Research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto suggests almost one out of 10 high school students drove while under the influence of marijuana in 2015.

Ahmed said that number might be higher as some youth do not report their marijuana use because it's a controlled substance.

"The bottom line is we do not want kids and youth using [marijuana]," Ahmed said. "We cannot stop adults from using it."

But when looking at public health policy, it's critical to have a plan in place first, explained Kristy McBeth, the director of knowledge management for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

"We're putting out all the information on what we think are the important health considerations before [legalization] happens," McBeth said. "We wouldn't want to see a model implemented without considerations for the health effects."

McBeth said a whole system of regulations needs to be in place, similar to alcohol and tobacco. This would set clear rules that can be followed, she said. 

Of the 36 public health units in Ontario, McBeth says a few have put out similar resolutions. The letter drafted by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is being delivered to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and will make its way to Trudeau's office.

"We want to be more proactive than reactive," McBeth said. "If we're being reactive that means we didn't get a chance to think things through ahead of time."

With files from Joana Draghici

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