LEGAL POT WON’T HURT OUR CITY
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.