It’s back to the drawing board when it comes to rules for smoking cannabis in public in Fort Saskatchewan.
Or “down the rabbit hole again” according to councillor Brian Kelly.
City council has opted not to continue discussion of a proposed smoking bylaw that passed first reading two weeks ago. That bylaw covered all types of smoking, setting out identical rules for tobacco, cannabis and vaping in the city. Had it gone into effect, public smoking would have been allowed only in designated smoking areas on private and city-owned property.
Instead council opted to reconsider an earlier version of the bylaw, first presented in May, that focused on limiting cannabis use in public. Council members have had ongoing doubts about this version -- after hearing from concerned health advocates and law enforcement officers, they sent it back to staff in June asking them to add new rules covering tobacco smoking.
On Tuesday night (Sept.11), council again decided to send the earlier draft back to staff for more revisions, including the addition of restrictions on tobacco use in public places and parks with organized events. Kelly was the lone council member to vote against asking administration to continue making changes to the bylaw, saying that in previous requests council gave staff an “impossible chore.”
"We gave administration no direction. We gave them no budget,” Kelly said. “And we gave them no time to do the work.”
Kelly was also highly critical of the results of a July public survey that showed a majority of Fort Saskatchewan residents want to see smoking largely restricted in the city.
Councillor Deanna Lennox wants to see the city come up with a smoking bylaw that sets out distinct rules for tobacco and cannabis but that also includes added restrictions on tobacco. She said she learned some things while going door to door asking the public for their thoughts on the matter.
“It became very clear that the consensus among the public is that they see tobacco and cannabis very differently. So I do think that there's an opportunity here to treat them differently,” she said on Tuesday, adding that the rules should include a focus on banning smoking in city parks.
Kelly questioned the request.
"Unless we can give administration some pretty specific guidance on what we would like to see, giving them some sort of blanket marching order like we did the last time and passing the burden on their shoulders simply isn't right and simply isn't fair and simply is an impossible chore to them," he said.
Mayor Gale Katchur said she thought council made good progress on the cannabis issue on Tuesday night.
"I'm actually in favour of referring this because I think we've been going around and around and I think we need to have that week of sober second thoughts and just thinking about what we've done,” she said.
City manager Troy Fleming said adding new rules to the legislation may not prove to be a simple task but that staff should be back with the next round of the bylaw on September 25.
"We're just going to go back and see if there's some additional tobacco restrictions that can be put in place as it relates to places where children congregate and have activities,” he said.
Tuesday’s meeting also included a non-statutory public hearing that saw a number of Fort Saskatchewan residents and business owners show up to speak against the smoking bylaw that passed first reading two weeks ago.
Recreational cannabis use becomes legal in Canada on October 17.