British Columbia

Medical marijuana smoker fights for right to smoke on BC Ferries

A medical marijuana smoker who posted a video of a heated argument with a BC Ferries officer says he's within his rights to light up in designated smoking zones.

BC Ferries says it has the right to ban pot smoking, but medical user cries 'harassment on the high seas'

Ryan Malazdrewicz, on the left, says he got in a heated argument with a BC Ferries officer, on the right, over smoking pot in the ship's designated smoking zone. (MC Farmer/Facebook)

A medical marijuana smoker who posted a video of a heated argument with a BC Ferries officer says he's within his rights to light up in designated smoking zones.

But the ferry corporation says not so fast and is claiming the right to limit pot smoking, just like they limit alcohol consumption.

Ryan Malazdrewicz, 40, says he was on his way home to Vancouver Island on the Wednesday afternoon, when he decided to "'medicate" in the ship's outside smoking zone.

The Ucluelet resident says he's had a medical marijuana licence for about seven years because of his back pain.

Malazdrewicz says as soon as he lit up he was confronted by one of the ship's officers telling him to stop. When he refused, more of the ship's crew showed up and surrounded him. That's when he says he went down to the chief steward's office to complain.

He notes there was no signage anywhere saying passengers can't smoke pot in the designated smoking zone and nobody in the steward's office was able to produce a written policy either.

"They told me its an internal policy, but they didn't have anything posted on it. They just referred me to a customer relations number who couldn't tell me anything."

'Harassment on the high seas'

Malazdrewicz says after speaking with BC Ferries customer relations and getting nowhere, he then called his lawyer, well-known pot advocate Kirk Tousaw, who advised him he was within his rights to be smoking in the designated zone.

He then returned to the designated smoking zone, where he ended up in another shouting match with the same ship's officer, which he recorded on his phone.

He then posted the video on Facebook under the title 'Harassment on the high seas'

Malazdrewicz says he was not smoking pot during the second encounter and was also concerned the officer, who identified himself only as James, covered up his name badge during the encounter.

He says while he has faced harassment in the past over his marijuana use, he's also smoked freely in public places for years, including outside airports.

"Any place there is a smoking section, I'm very within my rights to smoke cannabis," he said.

He adds anyone who wants to avoid the smoke should just avoid the smoking section on the ship's outer deck.

No booze, no pot, says BC Ferries

But BC Ferries disagrees with Malazdrewicz's interpretation of what rights medical marijuana smokers have on the corporation's vessels.

Spokeswoman Deborah Marshall says regardless of whether a person can produce a Health Canada card, BC Ferries does not allow the use of marijuana onboard vessels or anywhere on its property, "much like the consumption of alcohol."

Like most BC Ferries vessels, the Queen of Cowichan has designated smoking areas on the ship's outside decks. (BC Ferries)

But while the consumption of alcohol is illegal in public places that are not licensed, recent court rulings and lack of any new federal legislation has cast a haze over pot laws.

For instance, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department confirmed that anyone with a legitimate medical marijuana licence is allowed to smoke pot in public in Vancouver, as long as they they are not breaking city smoking bylaws.

BC Ferries maintains it has a similar right to restrict marijuana use onboard its vessels.

"When issuing these cards, Health Canada does not specify where or when a person may use marijuana; the holder of the card is expected to use discretion in that regard," Marshall said in a email.

"Use in a public place may be considered inappropriate depending upon the circumstances, and a private company/property holder's policies are to be complied with."

Malazdrewicz says BC Ferries has since acknowledged to him that their signage is not clear, but he's yet to see any written statement spelling out BC Ferries policy on smoking pot in designated smoking zones.


Mike Laanela is an online journalist with CBC News in Vancouver.