Canada: City Staff Pitches Pot Zones In Calgary Public Parks

Photo Credit: David Ramos

Pot smokers will be allowed to light up in designated areas of some public parks, under a proposal from Calgary city hall.

But some councilors aren’t happy with what they call complicated, unpopular proposals.

Those consumption areas, which would be determined through public consultation, should be strongly restricted and not be located within 100 meters of a playground, 150 meters from a school, in natural areas or in off-leash parks, said a report to be debated by city council Monday.

None of the spaces could be within 30 meters of a residence, the report recommends.

It’s in response partly to concerns a blanket public ban on pot use adopted by council will leave those living in non-smoking multi-family dwellings with no place to consume the drug, which becomes legal on Oct. 17.

It also recommends festivals be allowed to designate pot smoking areas apart from the main audience, due partly because “event organizers have made it clear that cannabis consumption is, and has been, a reality at several events despite its consumption currently being a criminal offence.”

The general public sites would be requested by members of the community or city administration, then thoroughly screened by police and other agencies and ultimately approved by council.

It would be up to city councilors to do the initial vetting of those requests.

Councilor Druh Farrell said it’s an appropriately cautious approach that leaves room for future flexibility.

“I’m not opposed to looking at a number of sites … I’m prepared to be patient, to monitor and amend to any emerging issues, though there may not be any emerging issues,” she said.

“I’m not prepared to dive in head first.”

She wouldn’t comment on Edmonton council’s approval of a far more lenient policy that allows public cannabis use with a number of exceptions.

There could well be a public backlash to some proposed smoking sites, said Farrell.

She said many of those concerns will dissipate when cannabis edibles are legalized by Ottawa, expected next year.

The report says it would cost about $5,000 to set up each site and $3,500 in annual maintenance.

Though she initially voted in favor of a total public smoking ban, Councilor Jyoti Gondek now says she favors an opposite approach, calling the report’s proposals “a patchwork solution.”

“We need to revisit our initial decision not to allow consumption like we do tobacco,” she said.

“When I think of the mass of regulations and checks and balances, of what resources we’re going to need to govern this, we need to look at this again.”

She blames Ottawa for legalizing the drug without properly consulting lower levels of government, leaving them “to fix the mess.”

Allowing any pot smoking in public parks would be a hard sell when 75 per cent of Calgarians oppose it, said Councilor Jeff Davison.

“It’d be a difficult challenge to move past that point,” said Davison, adding he’d be reluctant to support it.

“This is uncharted territory — you want to open the can slowly because once it’s open, it’s hard to put it back.”

Davison said he’d be in favor of a limited pilot project to gauge its feasibility and public reaction.

And he said the natural place to consider locating such sites would be in higher-density areas but at the same time not concentrating them, “so if you have to walk too far to get to them, you’ll just stand in the street and do it.”

Designated cannabis areas at festivals, he said, are much more palatable because they’re temporary and audience-specific at events where such activity is already common.

Applications for festival or event consumption sites would be “subject to extensive controls” amid health risks and odor posed by second-hand smoke, says the report.