St. Albert bans consuming cannabis in public

When cannabis becomes legal in the fall, people won't be allowed to consume the drug in public in St. Albert.

Council takes advice of Alberta Health, opts to 'err on the side of caution'

The City of St. Albert has opted for a complete ban on the public consumption of cannabis. (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

When cannabis becomes legal in the fall, people in St. Albert won't be allowed to use the drug in public. 

St. Albert council voted 6-1 at its meeting Monday night in favour of a citywide ban that prohibits smoking, vaping or even consuming edibles outside of private residences.

Municipal politicians acted on the advice of Alberta Health Services officials who joined them in the council chambers, Mayor Cathy Heron said Tuesday morning. 

"Their suggestion was it's easier to go very restrictive now and loosen it up as we become more aware and more educated and the fear and the unknown starts to dissipate," she said.

"But it would be much harder to go the other way. So if we were very loose with our regulations, it would be hard to clamp down if we felt we had made a mistake.

"We will err on the side of caution." 

Smoking bylaw not tough enough

Cannabis will be legal in Canada as of Oct. 17. The federal government has left much of the regulating to the individual provinces. 

Alberta's legislation mirrors its legislation for tobacco use, leaving it up to municipalities to determine the finer details around where products can be sold, bought and consumed. 

The City of Edmonton opted to tighten up its rules around tobacco use and extend those rules to include cannabis. People will be prohibited from smoking in nearly 70 per cent of Edmonton's parks. If on a sidewalk, they'll be required to be 10 metres from a doorway, patio or bus stop.

Like St. Albert, other municipalities — such as Banff and Lloydminster  — have gone with public smoking and vaping bans. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo went with a complete public consumption ban.

Heron said St. Albert's tobacco use bylaw, which allows smoking on playgrounds, isn't tough enough

"I've never been very comfortable with that," Heron said. "Now with legalization of cannabis, we have the opportunity to really think twice about where people are lighting up whatever product they're using," 

Council is planning to review its smoking bylaw starting in September, she said.

"I think there's probably some feeling in the city, and maybe many cities across Alberta, that the legalization of cannabis does provide an opportunity to tighten up the rules on smoking of tobacco as well," Heron said. 

Residents wary: survey

The City of St. Albert surveyed residents prior to making its decision.

"I think there's a lot of concern. There's a lot of unknown with cannabis becoming legal," Heron said. "Honestly, I've just heard a lot of fear and people do not understand what this means." 

Of the respondents, about half felt strongly that the smoking and vaping of cannabis should be banned in all public places. Those who felt it should be permitted were not in support of it at transit stops, on restaurant patios or in parks. 

"The majority of residents in St. Albert really were concerned with the smell of cannabis smoke and the secondhand nature of the cannabis smoke — and really, they were worried about a risk about the normalization of smoking again," Heron said. 

"We didn't want our young children in the city to see the smoking of anything to become a good thing." 

Heron said she specifically wanted a smoking and vaping ban, but the decision of council was a complete consumption ban. 

"There's going to be a whole segment of society where the use of cannabis will not be through inhalation. It will be through consumption, whether it's oils or whether you take some of the product and convert it into an edible," Heron said.  "I was hoping that amendment would pass, but it failed.

"I still wanted to really attack the smoking and vaping side of it, so my only avenue was to do a total ban." 

Medical marijuana users are exempt from St. Albert's new bylaw. 

People with prescriptions will be able to consume the drug as they had before, subject to the same restrictions as tobacco users. 

"If, let's say, you're in an industrial area on the sidewalk, with a medical prescription, you could use your cannabis," Heron said. 

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate information about the results of council's vote.
    Aug 21, 2018 1:58 PM MT