Bylaw to ban toking weed in public heads to Calgary city council for approval

On Tuesday, members of the community and protective services committee voted to prohibit smoking, vaping or consuming pot in public places.

Community and protective services committee voted to prohibit smoking, vaping or consuming pot in public

Under new proposed rules, Calgarians would not be allowed to smoke marijuana in public. (CBC)

Calgary city council is on track to limit where people can consume cannabis — once marijuana becomes legal later this year.

On Tuesday, members of the community and protective services committee voted to prohibit smoking, vaping or consuming pot in public places.

Under the proposed bylaw, consumption of marijuana is treated similarly to smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol in public spaces — a ticket with a fine of $100 could be issued if caught.

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart says it's unfortunate the provincial government is leaving it to municipalities to tailor their own rules.

"I think the province could have taken a much more dramatic role so that there were some consistency across the province," she said.

"It reminds me of many years ago, when they didn't take a role with the tobacco regulation and municipalities each had to do their own thing. That's sort of where we're left today."

Alberta Health against exemptions

On Tuesday morning, Alberta Health officials told the committee that banning public consumption of cannabis in public is a good idea, but they wanted the restrictions to go further.

AHS officials told members of the committee that a proposal to allow an exemption for the smoking and vaping of medical cannabis should be scrapped.

"Such an exemption would be in conflict with Health Canada's advice to medical cannabis users," says a handout from AHS.

Pot advocate disagrees with rules

Prior to the committee approving the proposed bylaw, Keith Fagin of the cannabis advocacy group Calgary420 told CBC News he doesn't agree with the rules and that cannabis users deserve somewhere public where they can gather to smoke, vape or eat the drug.

"It's just not something that's going to be a public safety issue whatsoever," he says.

The city report says the recommendation follows public consultation, including telephone surveys that found a majority of Calgarians would prefer cannabis consumption rules to mirror those for drinking alcohol in public places.

During the debate, it was noted there were concerns over normalizing the use of cannabis, and particularly, the example open consumption would set for young people.

Dr. Brent Friesen, the AHS medical officer of health for the Calgary zone, told the committee a proposal to allow beer-garden style places for people to smoke cannabis at festivals should also be dropped, because of second-hand smoke concerns and its potential for normalizing the behaviour.

That particular proposal was pulled from the approved bylaw and sent back to city administration for further consultation.

Cannabis treated like alcohol

Lawyer and marijuana advocate Kirk Tousaw says the proposed exemption for medical consumption is key to whether a public ban would be legal. But he disputes the suggestion that rules for cannabis consumption need to be the same as those for booze.

"What you're not going to see with public cannabis consumption are some of the real public nuisances that you see with public alcohol consumption, which is people passed out, people vomiting on the streets, people urinating on the streets because they've lost any inhibitions and are too hammered to care," said Tousaw, speaking from Duncan, B.C.

"Cannabis doesn't tend to do that. If anything, it sometimes makes you a little more introverted because of the potential anxiety-producing effects of THC."

But Coun. Shane Keating says regulating public cannabis consumption in a similar way to alcohol makes sense to him.

"You can't walk down the street with a can of beer in your hand," he told the Calgary Eyeopener. "Cannabis should be exactly the same, in my view."

The bylaw will go before city council on Thursday for final approval.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

With files from Scott Dippel, the Calgary Eyeopener and the Canadian Press