LE­GAL POT WON’T HURT OUR CITY

Ottawa Citizen - - EDITORIAL -

With only days to go un­til recre­ational cannabis is le­gal, the eu­pho­ria tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with the prod­uct is be­ing se­ri­ously re­duced by the buz­zkill of bu­reau­cracy. In an oh-so- Ot­tawa kind of way, our city is get­ting tan­gled up in the urge to make the newly le­gal in­tox­i­cant very dif­fi­cult to con­sume.

If there is one thing the bu­reau­cratic mind loves more than rules, it is con­sis­tency in rules. Imag­ine the chaos and con­fu­sion if peo­ple were al­lowed to smoke weed at Con­fed­er­a­tion Park but not across the street at City Hall’s Fes­ti­val Plaza. Should we try to find some cre­ative way to stop peo­ple from light­ing up on the side­walks? What about Na­tional Cap­i­tal Com­mis­sion recre­ational paths?

We are los­ing sight of a few im­por­tant points. First, it’s un­likely that we will see thou­sands of Ot­tawans surg­ing into the streets to en­joy their new-found free­doms next week. Le­gal mar­i­juana isn’t go­ing to be avail­able that eas­ily and the peo­ple who use the black mar­ket prod­uct al­ready do what they do.

More im­por­tant, one of the rea­sons cannabis is be­ing le­gal­ized is to do away with a law that is dif­fi­cult to en­force and largely point­less. Re­plac­ing that with a raft of sim­i­larly flawed lo­cal rules won’t con­sti­tute progress.

It is cer­tainly le­git­i­mate for the NCC and our city govern­ment to con­sider the com­mu­nity ef­fects of le­gal mar­i­juana. Their goal must be to bal­ance the new-found rights of peo­ple who want to smoke weed with the con­cerns of those who find it a smelly nui­sance or a health con­cern.

For ex­am­ple, many land­lords are un­der­stand­ably keen to keep their build­ings smoke-free. Pro­vid­ing out­door smok­ing ar­eas would be a rea­son­able way to give renters some­thing like the free­dom home­own­ers have on their prop­erty. Con­tracts be­tween land­lords and new renters about what can be con­sumed will bring bal­ance to this is­sue over time.

Mean­while, the city cur­rently bans to­bacco smok­ing in its parks, but the NCC does not. The fact that this is prob­a­bly news to most is a fair in­di­ca­tor of just how con­tro­ver­sial that sit­u­a­tion is. Rather than en­cour­age the NCC to fol­low its lead, the city could look the other way while peo­ple smoke in its parks, just as it does now.

Part of the com­plex­ity of cre­at­ing ra­tio­nal rules is that cannabis in­volves both smok­ing and in­tox­i­ca­tion. It is es­sen­tially a cig­a­rette and a beer, rolled into one. Nei­ther set of cur­rent rules quite fits.

If drink­ing is not al­lowed in our pub­lic parks, some ques­tion why we should al­low mar­i­juana smok­ing. But per­haps we are look­ing at this the wrong way. Why don’t we al­low peo­ple to drink wine or beer in city parks? Toronto Mayor John Tory is open to the idea, as is Premier Doug Ford. And rules — or their ap­pli­ca­tion — are more lib­eral in some other coun­tries. What makes us so dif­fer­ent?

As a log­i­cal so­cial ex­per­i­ment, the city could de­cide not to bring in spe­cial rules for cannabis, let the lo­cal sit­u­a­tion un­fold, and see if peo­ple are ma­ture enough to use their new free­dom re­spon­si­bly. Do we re­ally want to spend tax dol­lars hir­ing by­law of­fi­cers to check for peo­ple smok­ing joints in pub­lic parks?

Pub­lic con­sump­tion of le­gal mar­i­juana is an is­sue, but not nec­es­sar­ily a prob­lem. The right course is not to au­to­mat­i­cally slap oner­ous re­stric­tions on con­sump­tion, but to find rea­son­able ways for peo­ple to en­gage in a le­gal ac­tiv­ity.

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