Pubdate: Mon, 14 Aug 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Rob Ferguson
Page: A1


Mental health group recommends strict rules on legalized weed sales

When it becomes legal next July, recreational marijuana should be sold
with more restrictions than that other weed - tobacco - says the
Canadian Mental Health Association's Ontario branch.

The group will release a position paper today calling on the province
to ban pot smoking in cars with a "zero tolerance" policy, cap the
amount of THC in cannabis products and use all tax revenues from them
to boost addiction and mental health services.

Staff selling marijuana products in stores should have special
training akin to the Smart Serve program for bartenders, with what the
CMHA dubs a first-of-its-kind "Cannabis Card."

"We have an opportunity to start fresh with this," Camille
Quenneville, chief executive officer of CMHA's Ontario branch, told
the Star before the wide-ranging, 18-page submission was made public.

The provincial government will spend the coming months settling on an
age of majority for recreational marijuana, deciding on a retail
network of stores where it will be sold, developing a public education
campaign and dealing with a host of regulatory issues.

Ontario has established a Legalization of Cannabis Secretariat to
co-ordinate the effort on behalf of all government ministries. Medical
marijuana is already legal.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has strongly hinted the age of majority for
cannabis will be set at19, the same as for alcohol - a position the
mental health association supports. But Quenneville urged the province
to set strict advertising and marketing restrictions, as with tobacco,
to "minimize the profile and attractiveness" of cannabis, while going
one step further with plain packaging to downplay brand identities.
"We think that makes sense," Quenneville said.

Cigarettes are now kept behind closed doors in stores with brand logos
visible on their packaging, but alongside explicit warnings about the
health dangers of smoking.

The association's push for pot tax revenues to improve addiction and
mental-health services is based on concerns that "there's a link
between heavy use and anxiety and depression and psychosis,"
particularly if there's a personal or family history or if cannabis
use begins in the midteens, said Quenneville.

"There's not nearly enough mentalhealth services for the population,"
she added, also calling for more extensive research on causal
relationships between cannabis and mentalhealth problems.

Mental health and addictions now account for 7 per cent of the
provincial health-care budget and CAMH is pushing for an increase to 9
per cent, as recommended by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

"The one piece we struggle with is young people who are at higher risk
for mental health (problems)," Quenneville said, which makes a strong
public education campaign critical to reach "emerging adults" in their
teens and early 20s.

Efforts to make people aware of the dangers of cannabis are needed to
combat any mindset that "if it's legally available and it's sold, how
bad can it be?" she added.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said last month that he wants the
government to get out, months in advance of legalization, with a
strong public education and awareness campaign, especially given
medical concerns that cannabis can be harmful to people under 25
because their brains are still developing.

Quenneville agreed, saying "we need to get at it. A year from now (the
expected legalization date, next July 1) is not a long time."

On the concept of a "Cannabis Card," Quenneville said it's a logical
step to certify that people selling recreational marijuana products
have training on their attributes, risks and effects to better deal
with customers.

"We don't think it's out of scope for marijuana, which can be more
harmful. You have to have a level of knowledge."

The proliferation of marijuana dispensaries also needs to be "cleaned
up," said Quenneville, whose association is urging the government to
cut back the number of outlets where cannabis will be sold, to
regulate hours of opening more tightly and to consider a non-profit
retail model once legal sales begin next summer.

In the meantime, Ontario should be pushing the federal government to
decriminalize, as soon as possible, the personal possession of 30
grams or less of cannabis, the CMHA recommends in the policy paper.

Youth offences on cannabis possession should also be decriminalized
and existing penalties replaced with fine, community service or
mandatory education or addiction programs.

"A lot of young people are being charged with possession," said Uppala
Chandrasekera, director of public policy for the mental-health

For drivers and their passengers, strict enforcement of a ban on
cannabis consumption of any kind in automobiles will be key to curbing
impaired driving, the association added.

"A zero-tolerance policy would include both the driver of the
motorized vehicle, as well as any passengers in the car. It is
important that a clear message be sent to the public."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt