On booze and pot laws, Toronto should chill out

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - NEWS - Matt El­liott

On a Satur­day in June, I drank a beer on Queen Street West.

It was one of the first scorcher days of the sum­mer. The side­walks were packed. The sun was un­re­lent­ing. And then, as if by magic, my girl­friend and I came across a cou­ple of beer company reps hand­ing out sam­ple cans of a new radler.

Not my favourite kind of booze, but the day was hot and the beer cold. We drank with dozens of other peo­ple on the side­walk. It was one of those per­fect sum­mer mo­ments. It was also to­tally il­le­gal. Such is usu­ally the case with drink­ing al­co­hol in public in this town. Provincial and city rules turn peo­ple who are just en­joy­ing a drink into scofflaws. When­ever you crack open a tall boy on a Toronto Is­land beach or pour a glass of san­gria at a Trin­ity Bell­woods pic­nic, you’re risk­ing a fine.

It’s a sit­u­a­tion that’s out-of-step with the drink­ing laws in other cities like London and Berlin — cities where drink­ing in public is gen­er­ally per­mit­ted, so long as you’re not caus­ing a ruckus.

That’s a more sen­si­ble way to han­dle things.

So I’m glad to see changes might fi­nally be brew­ing. City hall’s parks com­mit­tee voted to com­mis­sion a re­port on al­low­ing beer trucks in city parks, us­ing Philadel­phia’s suc­cess­ful “parks on tap” pro­gram as a model. The re­port will come back to com­mit­tee in Jan­uary.

I hope the pro­gram is im­ple­mented quickly. But I also have an even greater hope: that it spurs both the mu­nic­i­pal and provincial gov­ern­ments to look at loos­en­ing up al­co­hol laws gov­ern­ing where and when peo­ple can en­joy a drink.

With­out that, it’s likely that the beer-truck-in-parks pro­gram could fol­low a typ­i­cal Toronto pat­tern, where a com­bi­na­tion of stub­born provincial law and city hall’s ten­dency to over­think things leads to oner­ous re­quire­ments for things like elab­o­rate fenc­ing, ex­pen­sive per­mits, added se­cu­rity and who knows what else.

A bet­ter so­lu­tion might start by let­ting a sim­ple twoword phrase guide pol­icy de­vel­op­ment: Chill out.

Lib­er­al­iz­ing al­co­hol rules will not cause chaos. Pri­mar­ily, all it would do is le­gal­ize be­hav­iour that’s al­ready wide­spread — at Fri­day’s meet­ing, Coun. Mike Lay­ton ac­knowl­edged that Trin­ity Bell­woods is a “de facto open beer gar­den” — while also cre­at­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties for craft brew­ers and other busi­nesses.

There’s noth­ing unique about Toron­to­ni­ans’ ap­proach to drink­ing that means the same loose rules that work in other cities can­not work here. If is­sues do crop up, they can be dealt with through fur­ther lo­cal re­forms. Chill out. That same ap­proach could have helped with the prov­ince’s foray into mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion. The plan an­nounced Fri­day to es­tab­lish sep­a­rate LCBO-style re­tail stores to sell cannabis smells strongly of over­reg­u­la­tion, and de­ci­sions about store lo­ca­tions will al­most cer­tainly lead to fur­ther talk of re­stric­tions through by­laws.

This ten­dency for gov­ern­ments to at­tempt to an­tic­i­pate ev­ery sin­gle prob­lem — real or imag­ined — on is­sues like booze and pot is the kind of thing that need­lessly makes peo­ple into law­break­ers.

It’s also the kind of thing that takes a per­fect sum­mer mo­ment and makes it il­le­gal.


Parks on Tap has been bring­ing craft brews to city green spa­ces since 2016 in Philadel­phia, Pa. It’s the ba­sis for a pro­gram be­ing pitched for Toronto parks.

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