Man­i­toba pegs pub­lic pot-smok­ing fines at $672 Que­bec cities tak­ing strict ap­proach to cannabis


ONTREAL — Doc­tor Melissa Genereux, head of pub­lic health in Que­bec’s East­ern Town­ships re­gion, thought she had per­suaded lo­cal of­fi­cials not to in­tro­duce a strict cannabis by­law in the area’s largest city, Sher­brooke.

She sat on the city coun­cil’s cannabis com­mit­tee — which in­cluded the mayor and chief of po­lice — where she said they dis­cussed ap­proaches to le­gal­iza­tion rooted in science, in­clud­ing al­low­ing adults to smoke pot in des­ig­nated pub­lic ar­eas.

But last month, Sher­brooke coun­cil ig­nored the com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tions and unan­i­mously voted to ban all pub­lic con­sump­tion of cannabis — join­ing a wave of Que­bec cities that have adopted a hard line on mar­i­juana.

With a le­gal drink­ing age of 18 and ex­tended bar hours, Que­bec has long been known for its per­mis­sive­ness to­ward the other le­gal in­tox­i­cant, al­co­hol. But when cannabis be­comes le­gal across Canada next Wed­nes­day, pot smok­ers in the prov­ince will wake up to a le­gal frame­work that is one of the strictest in the coun­try — and is set to get even tougher.

A few cities, in­clud­ing Mon­treal and Gatineau, have cho­sen a more le­nient route. But many oth­ers have re­jected the ad­vice of pub­lic health ex­perts, who say fear and myths about cannabis are driv­ing pub­lic pol­icy. By re­strict­ing peo­ple to smok­ing in­doors, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are just in­creas­ing the risks as­so­ci­ated with sec­ond-hand smoke, Genereux said.

She said in an in­ter­view she was sur­prised by Sher­brooke’s de­ci­sion. “What is fun­da­men­tal, is that we make de­ci­sions based on data and sci­en­tific ev­i­dence, as op­posed to per­cep­tions, or the po­si­tions of cit­i­zens who ex­press

Mthem­selves the loud­est.”

When the fed­eral gov­ern­ment adopted leg­is­la­tion to le­gal­ize cannabis last June, it left it to prov­inces to cre­ate their own regimes con­trol­ling how mar­i­juana would be pro­duced and dis­trib­uted on their ter­ri­tory.

Prov­inces such as Al­berta and On­tario de­cided to al­low pri­vate sales of cannabis — al­though un­der strict provin­cial su­per­vi­sion. Que­bec opted for state-run stores.

The fed­eral law per­mits Cana­di­ans to grow up to four mar­i­juana plants per res­i­dence; Que­bec’s law bans all pri­vate cul­ti­va­tion.

The provin­cial law does al­low cit­i­zens to smoke mar­i­juana in most places that smok­ing tobacco is le­gal. But in­di­vid­ual cities were free to draft by­laws if they wanted to add fur­ther re­stric­tions, and many jumped at the op­por­tu­nity.

Que­bec City, Sher­brooke, Le­vis, Sague­nay, Ma­gog, St-Jerome, Vic­to­ri­av­ille and dozens of oth­ers have ei­ther pro­hib­ited all con­sump­tion of cannabis in pub­lic or sig­nalled their in­ten­tion to pass by­laws to that ef­fect.

Mon­treal, how­ever, an­nounced Wed­nes­day it would not add ad­di­tional bar­ri­ers to con­sum­ing cannabis.

Mayor Va­lerie Plante said most Mon­treal­ers are renters, and if their land­lords ban cannabis in their units, there won’t be any­where that cit­i­zens can con­sume what will be a le­gal prod­uct.

Mon­treal, how­ever, may be forced to fur­ther re­strict cannabis con­sump­tion if premier-des­ig­nate François Le­gault fol­lows through on his elec­tion prom­ises.

Aside from rais­ing the le­gal age for con­sum­ing cannabis to 21 from 18, Le­gault’s Coali­tion Avenir Que­bec has promised to pro­hibit all pub­lic pot smok­ing in Que­bec.

Dr. Is­abelle Sam­son, pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion of med­i­cal spe­cial­ists for pre­ven­tive medicine, has come out strongly against Que­bec’s strict cannabis by­laws.

“I don’t think it’s based on science,” she said of the pub­lic smok­ing bans.

“I think there are a lot of peo­ple who are scared that cannabis will cre­ate pub­lic dis­or­der, but be­hind that claim I see a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what cannabis is.”

Politi­cians feel their con­ser­va­tive ap­proach is what cit­i­zens want.

Sher­brooke Mayor Steve Lussier said his coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to ban all cannabis con­sump­tion in pub­lic was unan­i­mous.

“I think we have ev­ery­thing to win by do­ing it this way and then read­just­ing,” he said in an in­ter­view. “I think Ms. Genereux does an ex­cel­lent job here in Sher­brooke, but we de­cided to be more rigid.”

With cannabis le­gal­iza­tion on the hori­zon last March, the town of Hamp­stead on the is­land of Mon­treal de­cided to ban smok­ing of any kind, any­where on its ter­ri­tory, ex­cept for pri­vate prop­erty.

“I must tell you there has been noth­ing I’ve done in 13 years as mayor that has been more pop­u­lar than this par­tic­u­lar by­law,” Hamp­stead Mayor Wil­liam Stein­berg said in an in­ter­view.

He said coun­cil­lors “didn’t even con­sult res­i­dents” be­fore pass­ing the by­law.

“The whole coun­cil felt they didn’t want peo­ple walk­ing around smok­ing cannabis, any­where in pub­lic,” he said, not­ing the smoke smells like skunk. “Who wants to smell that?”

Univer­site du Que­bec a Mon­treal Prof. Ja­cob Am­non Suissa, an ad­dic­tion ex­pert, said Que­be­cers seem to have more fears about cannabis than other Cana­di­ans.

He sug­gested the con­cern may stem from the prov­ince’s gen­eral ap­proach to drug use, which fo­cuses on pre­ven­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana risks “triv­i­al­iz­ing” the use of the sub­stance, he said, un­der­min­ing au­thor­i­ties’ mes­sages to avoid con­sump­tion. Suissa said this triv­i­al­iza­tion would be seen as par­tic­u­larly trou­bling as it ap­plies to young Que­be­cers.

Le­gal­iz­ing cannabis fun­da­men­tally changes the way po­lice and health-care au­thor­i­ties in­ter­act with what is es­sen­tially a drug, he said.

“The prob­lem isn’t the sub­stance it­self,” Suissa said.

“But the re­la­tion­ship we have with it.”


Cit­i­zens of Sher­brooke, Que., will not be al­lowed to smoke pot in pub­lic upon le­gal­iza­tion.

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