Halifax Regional Council is moving forward with a prohibition of smoking any substance on municipal property and will begin enforcing the new rules on Oct. 1 — 16 days before the federal legalization of recreational cannabis comes into effect.
Council decided against adopting an amendment that would strip tobacco from the nuisance bylaw, instead voting to accept a series of housekeeping amendments, such as renaming the Nuisance Bylaw as the Nuisance and Smoking Bylaw, defining what it means by municipal property, and replacing the word “weed” with the the term “cannabis” so as to avoid confusion.
Council’s vote was in-line with what municipal staff had recommended: that the bylaw amendment approved nearly two months ago remain the same — keeping its prohibition of smoking any substance on public property, including tobacco and cannabis.
The report said that restricting the bylaw to a single substance such as cannabis would make enforcement more difficult. It suggests courts may require some level of “scientific analysis” that the substance is, in fact, prohibited.
Sam Austin, who had brought forward the motion to remove tobacco from the bylaw, passionately argued for the amendment on Tuesday.
The councillor for Dartmouth Centre said he believes that there should still be limitations on the use of cannabis in public but that the previously passed amendment isn’t the way to address tobacco.
“I think what we’ve signed up for here is the worst of both worlds,” Austin said.
“It’s a ban that’s not a ban, and it is 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.”
WATCH: Dartmouth councillor wants tobacco excluded from smoking ban
Richard Zurawski, councillor for Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park-Wedgewood, argued in support of removing tobacco from the smoking bylaw, saying that cannabis is its own issue.
“We are creating a set of laws that in my mind are prohibitive against the poor sections of our society,” Zurawski said.
“If you are renting or if you are poor, than you have restrictions placed on you that the wealthy in our society don’t have. I don’t think that it is a good idea.”
Lisa Blackburn, councillor for Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville, said she had “no buyer’s remorse” on council’s original decision to prohibiting all methods of smoking on municipal property.
“We can do this. You know, I really think that this is our path to healthy, livable cities and it starts with the restrictions on smoking,” she said.
Councillors arguing against the inclusion of tobacco in the bylaw said that there would be no chance of enforcing the bylaw.
Steve Craig, councillor for Lower Sackville, said that no bylaw is enforced 100 per cent of the time but that it doesn’t mean that the municipality shouldn’t adopt a bylaw framework for dealing with smokers.
“There is no one right way to approach this and there is no one right way to legislate through this,” he said.
Rollout to continue
The municipality will now continue to roll out a series of designated smoking areas on municipal property which will be clearly identified through smoking-permitted signage ahead of legalization.
There is still no indication of what those areas may be.
Information regarding designated smoking areas is to be part of an education campaign that will be rolled out this month to ensure that people “understand what’s changing and what’s staying the same.”
The Nuisance and Smoking Bylaw must still pass second reading and a public hearing, which will be held on a yet-to-be-announced date.
WATCH: How smoking prohibition will negatively impact society’s most vulnerable
Motion to defer quickly defeated
There had been a request to defer discussion on the topic until next week from councillors Bill Karsten (Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage), Tony Mancini (Harbourview-Vurnside-Dartmouth East) and Russell Walker (Halifax-Bedford Basin West) as they were absent from Tuesday’s council meeting.
The request for discussion was quickly defeated after staff pointed out that Halifax could have a two-day gap between the legalization of cannabis, and the implementation of the municipality’s bylaws if council chose to amend what it had previously passed.
Council voted 12 to four in favour of defeating the motion to defer.
“Consistent with several of my colleagues, procrastination on this issue serves no one,” said Coun. Steve Streatch of Waverly-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley.
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