Ottawa health unit's pot proposals under fire

A consultant who helped shape Denver's marijuana policy believes a proposal from Ottawa Public Health to ban pot smoking and vaping in condos, apartments and private cannabis lounges would leave people with too few options to use a legal product.

'You're going to see people breaking the law,' Colorado consultant says

Ottawa Public Health is recommending a provincial ban on cannabis smoking and vaping in condos, apartments and even cannabis lounges, a move some critics say would simply drive people to break the law. (Joe Mahoney/Canadian Press)

A recommendation from Ottawa Public Health to ban all smoking and vaping of cannabis in Ontario's apartments, condos and even cannabis lounges would drive people to break the law, according to a consultant who shaped marijuana policy in Denver, Colo.

"You're leaving a lot of people in a place where they can legally grow this product, can legally carry this product, can legally purchase this product, but there's not a lot of places for them to legally consume it," said Dan Rowland, a consultant with Alberta-based 420 Advisory Management.

"That will create some issues."

Rowland has seen those issues firsthand.

The state of Colorado legalized the sale of cannabis in 2014, but cities are still grappling with how to regulate its use.

In Denver, it's permitted only in private residences, though not hotels or apartments where the property owner has imposed a ban. 

Some Colorado cities have businesses where customers can consume cannabis, but they had been outlawed in Denver until recently. 

That city's first is expected to open soon under a brand new licensing regime that permits vaping and edibles — though not smoking indoors, which would violate state anti-smoking legislation, Rowland said. 

Problem for tourists

The rules have been a particular problem for tourists who make purchases at legal pot shops but have nowhere to use them without breaking the law, Rowland said.

He said they're also unpopular with locals.

"They don't necessarily always want to consume (cannabis) alone in their own home," Rowland said.

"There is a social aspect to it."

That's driven some to flout the law and smoke in public.

Others are partying on buses that skirt the state's indoor smoking ban as they shuttle patrons between the city's dispensaries and grow facilities.

Were Ontario to accept Ottawa Public Health's recommendations, Rowland predicts similar problems here.

"You're going to see people breaking the law. That's clear," he said. 

The rules could also drive people to cannabis edibles, which can be consumed more discreetly, he said.

But legalization of those products won't happen for another year.

"If the idea is to cut down on the black market and get people into the licensed, regulated world, you need to provide sort of a common sense regulation on where and how consumers can actually use this product they're legally obtaining," Rowland said.

Vaping restrictions are overkill, says expert

Ottawa Public Health's proposal is also being criticized by a health law expert at the University of Ottawa.

David Sweanor, who was part of the fight to ban smoking in public places, said the ban on vaping in apartments is a mistake because the byproducts of vaping pose minimal risk to bystanders compared with smoke from cigarettes or a joint.

"You should be a lot more worried about having a candle on your table at dinner, or a fireplace going in the restaurant," Sweanor said. 

"It just really isn't something we need to be particularly concerned about."

In addition, enforcing such a ban would be next to impossible, he said, because unlike with smoke there's no telltale smell. 

If anything, Sweanor said, public health officials should be encouraging people to consume cannabis by vaping instead of smoking.

"If we give people who would otherwise smoke a way to get what they want without blowing smoke into their lungs and putting it into the lungs of third parties, that's a huge victory for public health," he said.

"That's what we should focus on. We shouldn't get into the moralistic 'thou shalt not' on issues where we just don't have the health basis."

Landlords in favour

The health unit's proposed rules for rental buildings are getting qualified praise from landlords.

"Many people dislike second-hand tobacco smoke, but even more people dislike second-hand cannabis smoke," said John Dickie, chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization and the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations.

Without a provincial ban on cannabis smoking in apartments, a landlord's only option is to put a non-smoking provision in a tenant's lease.

But such provisions have been difficult to enforce, Dickie said, because they require other tenants to complain to a tribunal about how the smoke affects them.

"We have to jump through hoops. We have to set neighbours against neighbours," Dickie said.

John Dickie, chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, is in favour of a provincial ban on the smoking of cannabis in apartments. (Reno Patry/CBC)

Dickie said his preferred solution would be for the province to make it easier for landlords to evict tenants who smoke in violation of their rental agreement, which would allow for a rental market with a selection of smoking and non-smoking buildings.

In the absence of that, he said he likes the health unit's proposal  — minus the ban on cannabis lounges, which could provide a venue for smoking that's an alternative to one's own apartment. 

"If pot's going to be legal and people are going to consume it, they've gotta consume it somewhere," Dickie said.

"What we don't want is for their consumption to negatively affect other people."