An update on smoking and cannabis

I’ve been sending variations on this post as an email to people who have contacted me with questions but I wanted to share it more broadly:

I understand the concerns I hear from the public about the proposed rules around smoking in public places. Really, Halifax has done a horrible job communicating what the intent of the by-law changes and more importantly how we see them being enforced.

The two biggest complaints I have heard are 1 – you are criminalizing smoking and it will be used to hassle low income folks and people of colour and 2 – that you are hiring a bunch of staff to do that.

On the first point – my concern about what Council  has approved was moderated by the fact that for the last 20 years people have not been legally allowed to smoke within 4 meters of a door or window due to the provincial Smoke Free Places Act. Police and bylaw do not have a history of using the existing law to harass low income folks. That law is used sparingly if at all, and I expect the bylaw would be used sparingly, as all municipal compliance bylaws are.  The goals of compliance are not to punish people, but to bring folks into compliance.  HRMs business practice is to always start with a discussion and warning after a complaint.  Tickets are rarely if ever issued for first offences.

Looking at Smoke Free Places, given the restrictions already exist, I feel quite sure that when cannabis is in the mix that citizens will call for enforcement of the Act.  I don’t think the public reaction and acceptance is going to be the same as cigarettes.  Because of this I think it is a good idea to identify where folks can smoke cannabis in public.

On the second issue, the new compliance officers will not be out there just ticketing folks in the street.  Far from it, as the lessons from Colorado and other US jurisdictions have been that those bylaw officers are going to be working all the time dealing with land use conflicts – in layman’s terms when weed smoke comes under the walls between one apartment and another, when the smell of growing plants comes through the walls, and navigating all those conflicts between rights of residents.

My personal view is 8 officers is not near enough, and this will grow significantly as workload piles up.  Also these officers will not be dedicated solely to cannabis, they will be added to the pool of compliance folks, and all of the Compliance Officer 2’s are cross trained to deal with all the many things a compliance officer may deal with, from lawn mowing to noise to smoking.

It is important to note the provincial act already has exemptions in place for folks who grow cannabis for medical reasons (EDIT – related to growing ie the provincial act exempts folks who “register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount for their own medical purposes” It is also important to note that smoking in rentals is controlled by the Provincial Act not municipal bylaw.

All that is to say I supported Councillor Austin’s motion to look at treating cigarettes differently from cannabis products.  I think that an out and out ban on smoking cigarettes in the streets may be a step too far at this time.  While I think smoking in public spaces needs to be curtailed, the urgent need is to deal with changes we can easily anticipate due to the legalization of cannabis. I personally feel the ban on smoking of all kinds and vaping in public parks should be maintained, as well as all the other proposed controls.