Toronto's Medical Officer of Health calls for immediate decriminalization of recreational pot

Toronto's Medical Officer of Health says Ottawa should immediately decriminalize the possession of recreational pot, even before federal legislation is introduced in 2018. It's one of several recommendations that will be reviewed by Toronto's Board of Health.

Dr. Eileen de Villa estimates there will be an additional 22,000 convictions if cannabis is not decriminalized

The federal government has promised to legalize recreational marijuana by July 2018 - but Toronto's Medical Officer of Health says it needs to be decriminalized sooner. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Toronto's Medical Officer of Health says the federal government should immediately decriminalize recreational pot possession in advance of upcoming legislation to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis.

"A significant number of young Canadians will continue to obtain criminal charges before cannabis is legalized," Dr. Eileen de Villa warns in the report, which will be reviewed by Toronto's Board of Health on Monday.

She estimates there will be approximately 59,000 charges and 22,000 convictions for simple possession by the time recreational cannabis is legalized in July 2018
Dr. Eileen de Villa has spoken out about the importance of a "public health approach" to marijuana legalization in the past. (Toronto Public Health)

De Villa says those legal run-ins can hamper access to employment and housing, lead to social stigmatization and reduce economic status.

"Given that cannabis possession will soon be made lawful in Canada, it is recommended that the Board of Health urge the federal government to immediately decriminalize the possession of non-medical cannabis for personal use," de Villa wrote.

In addition to her call for decriminalization, de Villa is recommending that the board pressure Ottawa to implement a wide range of cannabis policies in the name of public health.

The recommendations include:

  • Comprehensive "plain packaging" rules - meaning packaging free of any branding or design.
  • The establishment of new cannabis enforcement measures, including equity training to ensure the fair treatment of all population groups.
  • Strengthened regulations on marketing and promotion, including prohibitions addressing movies, video games and other media directed at young people.
  • The regulation of edible cannabis.

De Villa is also recommending the province set the minimum age of purchase at 19 to align with alcohol regulations and the establishment of a provincially-controlled agency for the retail sale and distribution of recreational pot, separate from the LCBO.

Finally, she recommends that Ontario prohibit the smoking and vaping of cannabis in public, like it does with tobacco. 

Toronto's Board of Health will review the report on June 12th.