City council passes first reading of public consumption of cannabis bylaw

Bylaw returns to council for second and third reading Sept. 4th

City council has given first reading to amendments to the smoke-free bylaw in relation to the public consumption of cannabis. They will be considering in the coming weeks if smoking, vaping and consuming cannabis in public will be prohibited.

“Consideration to prohibit public consumption of cannabis comes on the heels of consultation with stakeholders and citizens,” said Erin Stuart, inspections & licensing manager.

The survey focused on three areas – where recreational cannabis stores should (or should not be located in Red Deer) which was addressed through land use bylaw amendments; where it should be okay (or not okay) to use recreational cannabis and where home growing should take place.

“The updated bylaw is reflective of recommendations made by Alberta Health Services as well as feedback from our citizens in which 72 per cent indicated they were concerned about public consumption,” said Stuart.

An approved amendment made Monday included a penalty of $500 for a second offence and should the proposed amendments not be complied with, a fine of $500 to $2,500 for a third offence will be applied – an issue brought up by Coun. Vesna Higham.

Council also directed administration to explore amendments about the prohibition of smoking or vaping of medical cannabis in public spaces as well as that of indoor cannabis smoking being prohibited from multi-unit housing throughout the City.

Higham brought up those proposed amendments as well during the course of discussions.

She was clear that she wasn’t suggesting no use of it in those specific circumstances, as people would still be free to use oils and edible forms in their multi-unit housing complexes, for example.

Ultimately, she noted that public smoking and vaping of cannabis are important health aspects to consider.

“We’ve received numerous emails and phone calls and contact from the community wanting us to take action and show leadership in protecting their rights as they breathe the air (while) walking in public spaces,” she explained.

“My own personal opinion is that this is one of the worst pieces of federal legislation that has come down from any government, at least in my lifetime that I can recall,” she said. “I think that, first of all, it’s so divisive to our communities to begin with.

“The rationale that the federal government provided for legalizing marijuana was first of all to keep it out of the hands of youth, and second of all to destroy or put a dent in the black market sale of cannabis,” she said. “When you look at what’s happening in other jurisdictions, not only is that not being accomplished, it seems to have the opposite effect where more youth are consuming it and there is a higher amount of black market because of the taxing.

“We are trying to do the best we can at this local level, as I said in the meeting, to mitigate against what I consider to be some of the negative impacts of this wrong-headed, in my opinion, decision from the federal government,” she said, adding that she couldn’t envision there ultimately being less access of cannabis to youth with impending legalization.”

She is also concerned about residents in multi-unit buildings being exposed to cannabis smoke.

The Federal Cannabis Act comes into force Oct. 17th.

Mayor Tara Veer said that with second and third readings slated for Sept. 4th, it’s ultimately about trying to focus on public concerns around public consumption.

“It’s like any matter of legislation. Communities are responsible to respond to what they hear from the public,” she said. “So it’s meeting the legislative intent of both the provincial and federal orders of government, but also predominantly responding to what we are hearing from our community.

“There has been substantive public consultation throughout the process, but (this) bylaw itself doesn’t go to a public hearing,” she said. “Because there is that interim two-week period (until Sept. 4th) members of the public can certainly respond to some of the discussion that council has had today.”

Council was also told that between March 26th and April 9th, residents were invited to take part in an online survey seeking input on regulations related to the legalization of cannabis.

As noted, second and third readings of this week’s amended bylaw are planned for Sept. 4th.

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