Fort Saskatchewan city council has put off making a final decision about a cannabis smoking bylaw already months in the making.
After hearing from some concerned speakers at a recent meeting, council unanimously agreed to refer the bylaw back to administration for another look. The move will give city staff time to add rules on medical cannabis use and tobacco smoking to the draft bylaw, changes that could potentially see a complete smoking ban put in place.
"I think this delay is really an opportunity for people here in the community to really voice their opinions," said councillor Deanna Lennox.
The cannabis issue originally took priority in the development of local smoking regulations as the city worked to keep up with pending federal cannabis legalization.
"And the direction of council last night was that we would really prefer it all be together as one, as opposed as trying to catch up with the other down the road," Lennox added.
The proposed bylaw, which passed first reading in May and also sets out rules for vaping, limits the consumption of cannabis to private property but does not place restrictions on the medical consumption of cannabis, a situation Les Hagen of Action on Smoking and Health called a “loophole.”
"We're very concerned about the medical user exemption, which we feel will lead to widespread abuse," said Hagen, who was at the meeting to push for tighter regulations. Hagen suggested council change the proposed bylaw to allow smoking and vaping only in designated areas. He said Action on Smoking’s biggest concern was that public smoking would be renormalized, reversing years of investment in anti-smoking efforts.
"To a five-year-old, smoking is smoking, whether it involves cigarettes or vaporizers or tobacco or cannabis," Hagen said. "The more we expose children to unhealthy behaviours like smoking, the more likely we are to see children develop unhealthy behaviours."
Jasmine Hasselback, medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone, shared some recommendations Alberta Health Services (AHS) has sent out to municipalities ahead of cannabis legalization, commenting that she was speaking from a public health perspective.
“The province set up pretty loose rules to give you a lot of flexibility, but it also puts a lot of responsibility into your hands. And we’re providing that evidence-based side of things,” Hasselback said to the councillors.
AHS recommends that cannabis use be banned in public places, particularly in areas frequented by children.
Lennox said council took Hagen’s and Hasselback’s concerns seriously.
“After hearing that information and hearing what my colleagues had to say, I decided to make a motion to refer it back to administration for the purpose of including the use of tobacco and also the accommodation of medical cannabis,” Lennox said.
Lennox said the city will also be looking at what the duty to accommodate means when it comes to deciding where medical use will be permitted.
“Some things that came out of the meeting last night were sidewalks and parking lots. And so we'll wait and see whether or not those designated areas are expanded or include other places within the city.”
The draft bylaw will come back to council in late August.