City council chokes when fine-tuning its new leaving cannabis, tobacco and vaping all banned.
Regional council defeated a motion Tuesday that would have exempted tobacco from the city’s new anti-smoking bylaw.
Despite councillor Sam Austin’s attempt to amend the nuisance bylaw and separate cannabis and tobacco use, all smoking and vaping on municipal property will be restricted to designated areas after October 1. It wasn’t the outcome Austin was hoping for. “This is the wisdom of council,” he told reporters. “You don’t always get your way.”
Back in July, city council amended HRM’s nuisance bylaw to restrict all smoking on municipal property, ahead of the federal government’s cannabis legalization.
The “ban” was loudly criticized locally and across the country, causing Austin to walk back his position two weeks later. The Dartmouth Centre councillor asked for a staff report to tweak the new bylaw and remove tobacco, citing concerns the policy would unfairly target low-income residents. It was a “boneheaded idea,” said Austin. “It’s a ban that’s not a ban, that’s going to require a lot of time, effort and resources, and then at the end of the day, it’s not going to be particularly effective.”
City hall’s legal team came back against the councillor’s idea, however, arguing that differentiating between cannabis and tobacco would make enforcement of the bylaw difficult. The majority of Austin’s colleagues were also unswayed.
“I don’t think this is boneheaded at all. I think this is bold,” said Lisa Blackburn. “I really think that this is our path to healthy, livable cities and it starts with the restrictions on smoking.”
During the discussion, councillor Stephen Adams asked why the municipality’s policy couldn’t simply be based on existing provincial regulations.
The Smoke-Free Places Act prohibits smoking “within four metres of windows, air-intake vents and entrances to places of employment,” no matter the substance, but allows smoking in any area not specifically restricted. Adams suggested using that legislation as a template.
“It’s already done,” he said. “It’s the less-difficult way to proceed and the most consistent,”
But according to senior solicitor John Traves, that option would require a redrafting of the bylaw, which wouldn’t be ready in time for cannabis’ legalization on October 17.
As it stands, municipal regulations around cannabis and tobacco will be more strict than the province’s when it comes to smoking in public. The Smoke-Free Places Act only restricts smoking in certain areas, such as provincial parks, schools and places of employment. The province allows HRM the ability to either add restrictions to that standard or match the Act in its limits, but where there may be a conflict, “the stricter rules apply.”
Austin’s amendment attempt to find some alternative solution was narrowly defeated, eight to six. Councillors Walker, Karsten and Mancini were not in attendance.
After the vote, Austin stood firm in his position that the municipal bylaws are too strict and provincial bylaws aren’t strict enough.
“I still think you need some sort of framework around cannabis that’s more than the Smoke-Free Places Act,” he said.
Tuesday’s staff report also included several housekeeping items around the language and title of the bylaw, which were approved by council after an initial tie vote was reconsidered. Most notably, the bylaw’s name was changed from “Nuisance” to “Nuisance and Smoking” and the word “weed” was changed to “cannabis.”
City managers are still preparing a list of designated smoking zones that will have to be ready in time for legalization next month. Smokers in violation of the new bylaw face potential fines ranging from $50 to $2,000 for flagrant abuse. The municipality promises those tickets will be largely complaint-driven. But that remains to be seen.
About the only point everyone at city hall agreed on Tuesday is that the fog of uncertainty around cannabis is as thick as it was two months ago, leaving councillors resigned to a less-than-satisfying resolution that will likely be revisited sooner rather than later.
“There is no bylaw that is enforced 100 percent,” said Steve Craig. “Whatever we come up with, it’s not the right answer.