Public Consumption of Cannabis in Edmonton: Moving Forward

On June 18th, I put out a survey to collect feedback on how we should implement the public consumption of cannabis in Edmonton. Thank you to the nearly 200 of you who participated in that survey. I thought that receiving feedback through that mechanism worked well and will likely use surveys more in the future. The feedback submitted was diverse, well thought-out, and also divided. While many folks in Ward 1 and Edmontonians more broadly believe that there should be no public consumption of cannabis allowed, others advocate for a more flexible system. Below I will breakdown some themes that came from the survey results.

 

 

The Options

 

Respondents of the survey were given three options; Option 1: Prohibit Public Consumption (Except in Certain Areas), Option 2: Provincial Model (with Additional Restrictions), or Option 3: Other. Option 1 would prohibit all public consumption including all sidewalks, except in certain areas within parkland or in designated smoking areas.The intent of this option would be to provide some public space for consumption in areas that have no specific recreational purpose, areas not frequented or used by children, and to limit consumption to lesser used park spaces, such as pocket parks, greenways, or grassed utility lines, to reduce nuisance odour complaints.

 

Option 2 proposes to restrict smoking or vaping of cannabis in vehicles and in the same public places where tobacco smoking is prohibited under the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act, which includes buildings, patios, and in public transit. This is aligned with the Government of Alberta’s objective of limiting cannabis exposure to youth, additional restrictions were also included by the province to prohibit cannabis consumption including hospital property, school property, child care facilities, or within five metres of playgrounds.This option mirrors the existing provincial regulations, as outlined above, but adds further restrictions including prohibiting cannabis consumption at family-friendly City attractions, cemeteries, off-leash areas and golf courses.

 

The Feedback

 

Out of 187 respondents, 47% chose Option 1, 36% selected Option 2, and 18% said Other. For the 18% who said Other, there was a split opinion between treating cannabis like alcohol, compared to tobacco, with slightly more people favouring regulations similar to alcohol.

 

Of the respondents who indicated they thought cannabis and alcohol should be regulated the same, several suggested that cannabis should also be able to be licensed for certain venues or events similar to alcohol licensing. Some offered that they would like a combination of the options, with some public spaces allowed but not in crowded public areas, such as busy sidewalks. While there were many respondents who believed cannabis should only be allowed in personal residences, there was also concerns over tenant and homeowner rights in the event that a neighbour smoked.

 

Many respondents chose to give additional feedback, which ranged from cannabis should not have been legalized in the first place (a federal issue), to cannabis should be allowed anywhere tobacco is. The most recurring piece of feedback was that we need to limit cannabis exposure to children and minors, as well as protect them from second hand smoke and normalized smoking behaviour. As expected, there were also concerns about the impact of second-hand cannabis smoke and smell in public places. Another concern brought up was the ability to enforce if the bylaw is very restrictive, as well as the need for education of the new rules for the public.

 

An interesting finding of the survey that I had not considered before was the impact public consumption regulation would have on people with medical cannabis prescriptions. For example, around hospitals how would patients with medical cannabis prescriptions be able to consume if it is not publicly allowed. One respondent indicated that having overly restrictive rules might stigmatize those with a legal prescription to smoke cannabis, as they might be stopped by other citizens or enforcement officers unnecessarily. Limiting public consumption to certain areas also might make certain locations “undesirable” and it might be better to have it more available in public spaces, suggested one respondent. Others suggested that providing safe public places to consume may encourage safer use compared to limiting it to very restricted areas, which might encourage binge consumption.  

 

Of course, when debating cannabis other substances such as alcohol, shisha, and tobacco inevitably get brought up. Some survey respondents questioned why public consumption of alcohol isn’t legal if cannabis might be, or suggested banning both tobacco and cannabis smoke from the public entirely.

 

Conclusion

 

As this is the first survey I have done, I want to share my approach to using that feedback. I don’t believe it should ever be as simple as whatever the majority says, that’s the approach we should take. Along with the survey, I’ve also received a significant amount of emails and calls with almost all of them in favour of more restrictive rules. But we’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of expert opinions from previous elected officials in other jurisdictions, health professionals, etc. The advice we received from those groups, the perspectives from our Administration and other members of Council also help shape how I ultimately came to my decision.

 

Therefore, as a result of this feedback and the expert advice we have received on Council, I supported an approach that is a bit more lenient than what Option 1 would have allowed. In our meetings leading up to this discussion we heard from people in other jurisdictions where cannabis is already legal. Their feedback was based on their actual experiences and it was suggested that starting with more strict consumption rules and potentially loosening them overtime would allow the City to be responsive to our citizen needs. This is also inline with the recommendations from the Honourable Anne McLellan who led the federal task force on cannabis legalization.

 

As previously discussed, I recognize that complete public prohibition might be challenging to enforce, so I supported some minor accommodations that would allow use on all public sidewalks – as long as the individual using cannabis is more than 10m away from a doorway as well as any parks without any play equipment. In my opinion, this provides reasonable accommodations for those that choose to smoke. This is a bit of a shift from what was previous allowed. In the past, a person could smoke 5m away from a doorway but by increasing that distance, some of the busier main streets may have fewer locations where smoking cannabis or tobacco is allowed. In many communities, this won’t really impact a person as often times there is plenty of distance between the sidewalk and the home. The other notable change would be that in the past, a person could smoke 10m away from a playground or sports field. Now someone would be require to head over to the nearest sidewalk to smoke if the park they are in has any type of play equipment that would be used by children. Thinking about many of our playgrounds in Ward 1, that’s a fairly minor change as most parks and sports fields have a sidewalk close by that would allow someone the opportunity to smoke.

 

Council also considered tying public tobacco usage to cannabis as that might make the new bylaw easier to enforce and set clear expectations for everyone. I am primarily concerned with creating a bylaw that will protect air quality in public spaces, while it being flexible enough to adapt as our society learns more about the potential health impacts of cannabis usage. Although the survey results were more split than I was first expecting, I believe this Bylaw puts us in a good position to truly understand the impact of cannabis and then we will have the opportunity to revisit this Bylaw a year after legalization occurs so that we can see how it has been working and determine if any adjustments are necessary. 

 

Edmonton City Council voted on how to regulate public consumption of cannabis on Tuesday July 10th, this item was 7.12 on the agenda. On Wednesday July 11th, Council revisited tying tobacco consumption to cannabis consumption, which would restrict public tobacco usage. Council decided to further consider this proposal and will be revisiting it in September. This referral specifically read as:

 

REFERRAL (Made July 11):

That Bylaw 18397, as amended, be referred back to Administration:

  • to undertake further public engagement with respect to tobacco restrictions, including engagement with affected stakeholders and businesses in high traffic commercial areas,
  • to provide any other analysis of the Bylaw, as amended and return with a report outlining the results to a non-statutory public hearing at the September 12, 2018, Community and Public Services Committee meeting time specific at 1:30 p.m.

 

If you have other feedback on this matter you are welcome to reach out to me via email, phone, or social media. Lastly, if you liked giving your feedback through an informal survey, please subscribe to updates from my office so you don’t miss future ones! You can subscribe my scrolling to the bottom of http://www.andrewknack.com/ and entering your email.

 

Written by A. Knack and M. Banister.

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