Quebec municipalities will be able to toughen rules on public pot use, if they want

The Quebec government says it will give municipalities the power to toughen up restrictions on smoking marijuana in public, and some cities and towns say they will do just that.

Proposed law allows pot smoking where cigarettes are permitted, but some cities and towns want stricter rules

A participant smokes a joint during the Global Marijuana March 2017. Quebec plans to allow cities and towns to beef up laws on where marijuana can be smoked. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

The Quebec government says it will give municipalities the power to toughen up restrictions on smoking marijuana in public, and some cities and towns say they will do just that.

The province's proposed cannabis legislation, Bill 157, will allow people to consume marijuana in nearly every place where tobacco smoking is allowed once it becomes legal, except at university and college campuses.

But in a written statement, the office for Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois said municipalities will be given the option of toughening up those rules.

"It is possible for municipalities to ban smoking cannabis in areas beyond those set out in the provincial law," it says. 

Charlebois' office said it is "studying ways to see how municipalities that want to ban use in the public sphere can be supported," adding that it doesn't believe municipalities necessarily want to ban consumption everywhere.

Quebec's two major municipal associations, the UMQ and FQM, both say want to be able to restrict where marijuana smokers can light up.

Neither association has specified exactly where they want those places to be, nor how they would go about reining in pot smokers.

Stéphane Maher, the mayor of Saint-Jérome, 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal, wants to see a ban in every public place in the province — a position he shares with the CAQ, the opposition party polls have suggested may form the next government.

Montreal will unveil its full plan soon, but "at this point, we want to follow the same regulations as for smoking," Mayor Valérie Plante told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

She added that the city wants to build in some flexibility to change the rules for different events.

Municipalities will make their own rules

The FQM wants every municipality to have the freedom to make its own rules, but Scott Pearce, vice-president of the FQM's urban planning commission, says he is personally favourable to restricting consumption everywhere where either tobacco or alcohol are also not allowed.

"Obviously, we're not going to be investing taxpayers' money into pot parks," he said.

Pearcesays his concern is that children could see and be exposed to marijuana use under the current proposal.

"When you have places with swings and slides and kids, to me it's still not acceptable," said Pearce, who is also the mayor of the Township of Gore in western Quebec.
Scott Pearce, mayor of Gore, Que., says he would like to see tougher rules on where marijuana can be smoked in public. (Radio-Canada)

"If someone, that's what they want to do at the end of their nine to five job rather than have a glass of wine, they want to smoke their fatty, that's their business," he said.

"However, I think we have to be very careful about the message we send to the children of our community."

Concerned landlords

The Quebec landlords association said if tenants face a widespread ban on public consumption, many would likely smoke it in their homes — a proposition they find problematic.

"If people can't smoke it outside of the apartments and the buildings that they are renting, people are going to consume it wherever they think they can get away with it," said spokesperson Kevin Lebeau. 

Under Ontario's proposed legislation, cannabis would only be allowed to be consumed in private residences.

Charlebois explained last November why Quebec decided to go in a completely different direction.

"If we cannot consume it in businesses, in restaurants, in bars, on school property, on playgrounds, in parks, on sports fields — everywhere where tobacco [is banned], at a certain point, people need to consume it somewhere," she said.

The landlords association is calling for the express legal right to ban tenants from smoking in their homes and on balconies.

"We may see an increase in problems whereby, despite what's written in the lease, we've still got people consuming cannabis in their dwellings, so it could open up a whole series of problems for landlords," Lebeau said.