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Ontario passes pot bill 17 hours after marijuana legalized across Canada

Ontario passes pot bill 17 hours after marijuana legalized across Canada
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Pot smoking is now legal in Ontario anywhere firing up a cigarette is permitted — as long as you’re 19 or older, not toking in a car or a boat or within 20 metres of a playground or school.

Premier Doug Ford’s government passed legislation Wednesday on the sale and use of recreational cannabis.

But the historic vote took place amid concerns there are too few restrictions on where to light up, leaving people vulnerable to second-hand smoke.

“Our number one priority is to make sure our children are safe, make sure we keep it away from schools, and make sure we let municipalities decide if they’re even going to sell it, where they can smoke it,” the premier said.

The bill passed 17 hours after recreational marijuana became legal across the country at 12:01 a.m., creating a sales frenzy.

Ford joked with New Democrat MPPs during the vote after he pretended to roll a joint with a sheet of office paper.

“You know exactly what I was doing,” he called across the aisle with a laugh.

The NDP and Liberals voted against Bill 36, with the exception of former Grit cabinet minister Michael Coteau (Don Valley East).

Cities and towns have until Jan. 22 to decide if they will ban privately-run marijuana stores from opening within their boundaries once shops become legal in the province next April.

The government expects as many as 1,000 stores to open after licence applications are screened. Until then, the only legal channel to buy weed is online through the Ontario Cannabis Store.

Municipalities can also pass bylaws limiting where citizens can light up a joint.

Critics said the law sends a “mixed message” on intoxicants by allowing users to smoke pot and get high in a park, for example, but not to legally drink a beer there.

“They’ve opened up a whole other can of worms,” said Green party MPP Mike Schreiner, who voted in favour of the bill despite his concerns because it opens opportunities for entrepreneurs to open marijuana stores.

“I don’t want to walk through a park and have my kids smelling pot.”

Aside from cannabis, the law allows displays of vaping products in convenience stores and gas bars, something health groups including the Canadian Cancer Society and Lung Association warned against in public hearings on the bill.

They fear the displays are aimed at luring teens — who cannot legally buy vaping products until the age of 19 — into the smoking habit and argue vaping gear should be shielded from view like cigarettes have been since 2005. Seven other provinces have banned vaping displays.

“This is absolutely taking the province backward,” New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters.

“This generation of kids can’t be the guinea pigs for vaping products,” said Dr. Robert Schwartz, director of the Ontario tobacco research unit at the University of Toronto, noting that flavours of vape juice like “Frosty Sprinkles” and “S’mores” are clearly aimed at kids.

The NDP had also proposed an amendment to the bill allowing a 30-day public comment period on proposed marijuana store locations, instead of 15 days, but that was rejected by the Progressive Conservatives.

Ford’s move to allow privately run stores to open a smaller number of state-run pot shops modelled on the LCBO and keep marijuana smoking off the streets.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the Conservatives — who argued it’s best to sync pot smoking with provisions in the Smoke Free Ontario Act and that a larger number of stores are more likely to curb the black market in weed — have made a “mistake” in their approach.

“You can smoke on a public beach, in a park or on a sidewalk ... it could be close to children,” he added.

“We have to remember with this big change, we have to respect each other’s rights. That’s why we don’t have drinking in public places.”

The law gives the new government the discretion to set a distance that pot shops must be from schools and to limit the number of stores any one operator can open to prevent large cannabis corporations from snagging too much market share.

Schreiner said he’s worried the government won’t follow through on limiting market share because “it’s not explicit in the legislation ... will licences go to the highest bidder?”

Community Safety Minister Michael Tibollo issued a reminder that “the numerous illegal dispensaries operating in many parts of the province remain illegal.”

Operators of illegal stores that have not shut down will “never, ever” be cleared to get a sales licence in Ontario, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said during final debate on the bill.
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