Consultation report: cannabis legalization in Ontario
Read what we heard when we invited Ontarians and experts to share their thoughts on how cannabis (also called marijuana) should be sold and regulated in Ontario to protect young people, keep our roads and communities safe, and support public health.
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Public survey results
Who we heard from
From July 12 - 31, 2017, we asked Ontarians to share their thoughts on how the government should approach the legalization of cannabis. Over the course of the survey, we received a significant number of responses:
We received feedback from people from across the province, of all ages:
- less than 1% were 15 years of age or under
- 54% were 16 to 34 years old
- 33% were 35 to 54 years old
- 11% were 55 or older
A lot of young people participated in the survey. According to the last Canadian census, 15-34 year olds make up about 30% of Ontarians aged 15 or older – this same age group accounted for more than half of our survey respondents who provided their age.
Cannabis users are very engaged with the issue
Ontarians who responded to our survey reported a very high level of awareness and familiarity with the topic. Almost nine in 10 were at least somewhat familiar with the federal government’s plans to legalize cannabis.
A high proportion of people who completed our survey reported being cannabis users themselves, with over half considering themselves to be either occasional or frequent users, compared to only 13% of the general population.
Among respondents, there was also a high level of support for legalization. Half supported legalization completely, while another 36% were supportive, but had some concerns.
Younger people and regular cannabis users were more likely than others to support legalization.
What we heard
Setting a minimum age
Health experts caution that cannabis may impact a person’s developing brain until the age of 25. At the same time, setting the minimum age too high could lead young people to continue relying on the illegal market.
The federal government has proposed a minimum age of 18 to have and buy cannabis. Survey respondents were asked about their opinion on raising this minimum age to 19 in Ontario, and were overwhelmingly supportive. Eighty-six per cent said they would support a minimum age of 19.
Driving out the black market and bringing the entire industry into regulation is the most important objective of legalization, in my opinion, and to do that properly, the minimum age must not be higher than 19.Survey response
Deciding where cannabis can be used
We also asked where they thought people should and shouldn’t be able to use cannabis. The federal government’s proposed law would put in place some limits, while provinces and territories could make additional rules.
Overall, three quarters of respondents supported having restrictions on where cannabis could be used, with a range of opinion on what those restrictions should be.
Among people who did support these restrictions:
- nine out of 10 supported prohibiting cannabis use around schools and child care
- three out of four supported restricting areas around public buildings (for example, libraries, community centres)
Cannabis users and non-users had very different views on this issue. Eighty-seven per cent of non-users supported stricter restrictions on places of use, compared to only 60% of users.
Keeping our roads safe
Survey respondents were asked if they would support stricter penalties (for example, increased fines, longer licence suspensions) for drug-impaired driving.
Nearly two-thirds reported being strongly or somewhat in favour, but this response was strongly split based on whether or not respondents were cannabis users. While 78% of non-users were supportive of stricter penalties, only 44% of cannabis users felt the same way.
Treat penalties like any other drug/alcohol impairment. Cannabis is a drug and when used recreationally the dangers are there just like any other.Survey response
Selling and distributing cannabis
Survey respondents didn’t show a clear preference for who should sell and distribute legal cannabis in Ontario.
When given the choice between a government-owned or private retail model, 43% of survey respondents were equally supportive of both options.
Among people who preferred one model over the other, current cannabis users were far more likely than non-users to prefer a private model at 49%, while 41% of current cannabis users supported both options.
Alcohol and cannabis should not be sold in the same retail location. Staff at retail locations should be well trained to educate on safe dosage and consumption.Survey response
Educating and informing the public
Throughout the survey, respondents made it clear that public education in a range of areas was a priority to them.
Among the most important areas for public education were:
- health risks of cannabis for children and youth under 25
- drug-impaired driving laws and penalties
- information about how to use cannabis responsibly
- general health risks of cannabis
- safe use of different types/forms of cannabis
Expert roundtable conversations
From July 24 to August 10, 2017, the Legalization of Cannabis Secretariat held a series of expert roundtable sessions to gather input and opinions about Ontario’s approach.
Who we heard from
Attendees at these sessions included:
- licenced producers
- organizations representing retailers
- health and mental health professionals
- youth advocacy groups
- public and road safety experts and law enforcement
- community-interest organizations
What we heard
A majority of experts favoured a government control board model, given its ability to promote public safety, control products and prices, and leverage existing best practices and lessons learned from similar models.
Under any retail model, experts agreed that it will be important to shift consumers away from the illegal cannabis market through affordable prices, convenient access, and product selection.
Some experts advised stricter penalties as a deterrent to impaired driving and to protect road users. Others cautioned that penalties could lead to adverse effects for vulnerable populations, especially youth, racialized populations, or Indigenous communities who already interact with law enforcement on a disproportionate basis.
Experts stressed the importance of establishing a minimum age based on Ontario’s policy objectives of protecting youth, decreasing health risks and shrinking the illegal market. Some consultation participants also recommended aligning the provincially-mandated minimum age for cannabis with alcohol and tobacco, as all three substances have various second-hand health and safety impacts.
Experts agreed that public safety, especially for children and youth, is a key priority in determining possession limits for individuals under and over the minimum age. Given the potential difficulty of identifying and enforcing the legal limit, they suggested that government should focus on restricting places of possession and harm reduction efforts.
Places of use
A key factor for determining where cannabis can be consumed is whether the user has a negative impact on others. There was overwhelming consensus that smoking cannabis should at least be subject to the rules in the Smoke Free Ontario Act.
Some participants recommended lighter restrictions for vaping as an incentive to transition from smoking, while others felt that allowing broad usage of vaping could once again normalize smoking.
Experts felt that homeowners should be provided with the appropriate knowledge of safe cultivation methods and guidelines to ensure minimal harm to home growers and other residents.
Experts recommended that a dedicated cannabis public education campaign be a comprehensive and collaborative effort in order to meet the diverse needs of people across the province.
Experts also agreed on the importance of developing targeted information for community and cultural groups and on the need for accessible and relatable education material for marginalized and racialized populations.
Youth harm reduction and prevention
Experts felt that developing a robust and comprehensive prevention and harm reduction campaign should be a key priority for government. In doing so, it will be important to gain the support of various community and Indigenous stakeholders to ensure the content resonates with a diverse target audience.
We also heard that any harm reduction and prevention strategy should be consistently reviewed for its effectiveness and supported by the best possible evidence.
Experts recommended conducting additional consultations with business groups and key representatives from the labour industry prior to July 2018.
A key outcome of these consultations could be to align the appropriate level of guidance the Province should provide and the responsibility of employers to keep workplaces safe.
Responsible economic development
We heard from participants that discussions on an ideal responsible economic development strategy would have to balance the need to promote public health and safety and to seek opportunities for economic growth.
Experts agreed that a key opportunity would be to identify the priority partnerships that will shape short, medium, and long-term economic development opportunities. The government should consider its role in building an enabling ecosystem to support the economic activities that cannabis legalization could bring.
We have introduced the Ontario’s Cannabis Act which, if passed, along with a number of other new rules, would help protect youth and young adults, keep our roads and communities safe, and ensure a safe and sensible approach to cannabis legalization.