ANTI-SMOK­ING BY­LAW

City coun­cil chokes when fine-tun­ing its new leav­ing cannabis, tobacco and vap­ing all banned.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY SAN­DRA C. HANNEBOHM

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.

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