Canada: Smoking Pot In Public Coming To A Head At Edmonton City Council

Photo Credit: Justin Tang

The city begins the laborious process of regulating cannabis use on Tuesday, when council’s urban planning committee examines new proposals by administration to deal with the drug’s pending legalization, including whether to allow pot to be smoked in public.

While many legalization details are the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments, municipal authorities have a role in the cannabis retail sector, including land use zoning and business licence regulation.

Cities are also responsible for regulating pot smoking in public places, and for managing waste products created by cannabis production.

Ward 10 Coun. Michael Walters, one of four councillors on the committee, said reaction to cannabis legalization from his constituents indicates “a general acceptance in society that (legalization) is not unreasonable, but there are things we need to be mindful of.”

Walters expects the issue of pot smoking in public places to be contentious.

“That’s going to be the most interesting conversation,” he said in a phone interview. “Do we set up a cannabis tent, like a beer tent at festivals? Do we allow people to smoke on the street like they do with cigarettes? Do we ban cannabis smoking where we ban tobacco smoking?”

Walters said council concerns itself with three principles when it comes to cannabis: concern for public health and safety, ensuring the city is business friendly, and making sure regulations reflect a balanced perspective among Edmontonians.

Among the proposals from city administrators is that cannabis stores must be at least 200 metres from a school or public library, and 100 metres from a park or recreation centre. Stores must also be 200 metres apart, according to another proposal.

Public hearings on those ideas are to take place in May.

In an update tabled for Tuesday, administration notes it will also present options for smoking pot in public to council on May 23.

There are three possibilities.

One would prohibit all public consumption, another would allow for public consumption except in areas banned by provincial regulations, and in areas where tobacco smoking is prohibited under the city’s public places bylaw.

The third choice would regulate public consumption in a more restrictive manner than provincial legislation, but still allow some public consumption, for instance, in designated areas at festivals.

Walters said a good place to start would be to align cannabis consumption laws with cigarette smoking laws, with some debate over whether “we allow people to walk outside of a bar, similar to how they go out for a smoke.”

Walters expects people to complain about the smell of pot in public, and isn’t sure what can be done about that.

“We don’t want to over-regulate and then pay to enforce all those regulations. But also, the public health questions are important.”

He said he expects new bylaws and business regulations to be re-examined after legalization takes place.

“Because this is a new experience for our city and all municipalities, a check-in within a year is likely to occur.”

In Calgary, cannabis use would be largely limited to private homes or designated areas at public events in proposed rules going to a council committee.

While medical cannabis users would be exempt from the public ban, Calgary’s recommendations are more strict than those put down by the province, which would allow cannabis to be smoked, vaped or consumed on sidewalks and in public parks.