This column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner June 18, 2018.
Talk about buzz kill. At its meeting Tuesday, Halifax city councilors will consider a staff report recommending ever more stringent controls around the cultivation and consumption of cannabis to make sure no one gets the notion there is anything remotely recreational or fun — certainly, definitively not fun— in the air because of the looming legalization of recreational cannabis.
City council is not alone, of course.
Partly out of legitimate health and human considerations, and partly out of a desperate desire not to be seen to be blessing the dangerous idea otherwise ordinary people might occasionally enjoy a toke for the pure recreation of it, governments at all levels have been busy regulating and restricting everything about the business — as well as the pleasure — in advance of making it legal.
During the 2015 federal election campaign, the federal Liberals set the tone, coupling its decades-late-but-better-late-than-never promise to legalize recreational cannabis use with its solemn, no-dopers-in-our-government promise of “new, stronger laws” prohibiting sales to minors, driving while stoned and bootleg pot sales.
Ottawa’s Bill C-45, passed in November 2017, fulfilled all those promises and much more — setting out new rules for everything from types of cannabis products allowed (no brownies, no gummies), to the federal age of smoking-up majority, to portion control and potency, production, packaging, advertising, home-growing and, of course, taxation.
Thanks to our constitutional division of powers, that was not the end of it. It was barely the beginning. Provincial governments got to weigh in too. So did municipalities. And they have.
The result is the usual hodgepodge.
In Nova Scotia and most other provinces, you’ll need to have reached the moral-majority age of 19 to toke legally; in Quebec and Alberta, you magically become a free-to-smoke adult a year earlier. Must be something in the air there…
Nova Scotians will only be allowed to buy their weed from a limited number ofgovernment-operated, liquor-commission-controlled outlets, or online; free-range, free-enterprise Albertans will be able to stock up at privately-run retail stores.
Most Canadians will be allowed — theoretically — to grow up to four plants for their own use; Quebec has designated itself a no-grow zone.
And that’s barely the beginning of the progressively more regressive maze-daze of multi-government rules that will regulate pot use in Canada.
Like its federal counterparts, the Nova Scotia government has generally adopted the fun-free model for legalization.
The government even had its own Throwback Thursday moment, honoring the post-prohibition era when liquor buyers had to line up at wickets and furtively slip their handwritten alcohol orders to a clerk, who then proceeded to retrieve their booze from a storage area behind a nondescript, display-free wall, slip it in a brown paper bag and slide it back through the wicket. Buyers were then required to proceed directly to their dwelling — no stopping at the corner store for mix and chips — and close the blinds before imbibing. Taking a page out of that un-fun book, the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission has decided “cannabis products will be sold in a separate area where they won’t be visible from the rest of the store,” and that “youth under 19 will not be allowed in this section,” even toddlers in a parent’s arms…. Seems you’re never too young to be swept away by reefer madness.
In addition to reiterating that its existing smoke-free places legislation will/does apply to smoking or vaping cannabis in all the usual indoor public places — not forget outdoor bar and restaurant patios — the province has now also “updated” the act to ban smoking:
- on or within 20 meters of playgrounds located in an outdoor public space;
- on or within 20 meters of a publicly owned sport and recreation event or venue, located in an outdoor public space;
- on and within nine meters of public trails;
- in provincial parks and on provincial beaches, except for within the boundaries of a rented campsite;
- in vehicles used as part of one’s job or work…
Not to forget that said vehicles also includes “motorized boats” (though not, for some reason, navigable sailboats or canoes). Even if you’re not the driver, you can be fined up to $2,000 for consuming or illegally storing your cannabis in any vehicle, including the water-borne ones.
And, oh yes, the new provincial legislation gives landlords the power to ban pot smoking in their apartment buildings.
Phew… So where can you smoke up?
Oh, we’re not done yet. Not even close.
Halifax city staff, not wanting to be left out, is now recommending council “adopt By-law N-303, amending By-law N-300, theNuisance Bylaw,as set out in Attachment 2,” not to forget amending the municipal parks bylaw, land use bylaws and — before they’re done — the regional plan too.
If staff has its way, there’ll be no smoking on any municipal property, which includes not only parks, streets and trails, but also sidewalks… Wait a minute… Didn’t provincial legislation allow for sidewalk smoking? Sorry. The city controls the sidewalks. So… no. Not the sidewalk either.
And you remember those federal and provincial rules that permitted you to grow up to four plants for personal use? Forget them. Or at least forget growing plants in your garden, on your deck, or in a backyard shed. The reason? According to the staff report,“this will allow the odour from the growing of cannabis to become a nuisance to those living or visiting in other dwellings on or near the property where it is grown.” (Really? Has the city considered banning those odoriferous Lush cosmetics outlets from shopping malls, or demanded that growing peonies be declared illegal because they smell? Just asking…)
Anyway, forget growing your own, unless you own your own home and unless you keep the windows closed at all times.
Of course, there will be a cost to all of this. The staff report says the “cost of enforcing an all-out smoking ban and requiring residents within the services area to cultivate cannabis within dwelling units would be an annual estimated $970,000 in ongoing costs.” Of course, those additional eight new bylaw compliance officers, one supervisor and one support staff, plus equipment and new work space, plus modification of existing signage, are in addition to the recent separate ask by Halifax regional police who claim legalizing cannabis will increase rather than decrease their costs.
Nobody said removing cannabis from the black market was going to save money… Wait a minute? Didn’t they say exactly that?
Oh well. At least cannabis will soon be legal. Provided you don’t grow it. Or smoke it. Or enjoy it.
And so it goes…