• Michael Zmuda

How will Public Consumption Regulations Impact You?

Now that the legislative process for legalizing cannabis in Canada is largely complete with the federal government giving Royal Assent of Bill C-45 and setting the legalization date for October 17, attention will increasingly be focused on implementing the legislation that is now passed. One aspect of that is public consumption and the regulations around how and where Canadians can legally consume cannabis.

In general, there are three broad approaches to the rules around public consumption. One is a complete ban, which would restrict usage to private homes. If you do not own your own home, however, you may be prevented from smoking or vaping in your residence due to condominium and/or apartment regulations.

Another approach is a combination of banning public consumption, but allowing people to consume cannabis in spaces such as licensed establishments.

In Alberta it will be the ‘Tale of Two Cities’ for the province’s two major cities, as Calgary and Edmonton have chosen opposing regulations when it comes to public consumption.

Edmonton’s preliminary public consumption approach will be to regulate public consumption of cannabis similar to tobacco, subject to some buffer zones around areas like schools and playgrounds. This approach addresses the issues for people who may not have a legal place to consume a legal substance.

Calgary has opted to go with a public ban, but provide for open air consumption areas, which will allow the city to avoid running afoul of provincial anti-smoking regulations. Calgary will designate ‘Cannabis Gardens’ at festivals, which will operate much like the current grey market vapour lounges as far as requiring cannabis users to bring their own products. Calgary will also designate open air locations in the city, and council has mused at beginning with painting some park benches green to denote a permitted cannabis consumption space.

In the rest of the country, provinces and cities have generally taken a restricted approach to public consumption. Even cannabis-friendly BC has aligned public consumption of cannabis with that of tobacco, meaning it is prohibited in public spaces, such parks and beaches. BC also has punitive public intoxication rules, which would see anyone deemed by a peace officer to be intoxicated in public face a fine of $3,000. Additionally, current provincial legislation does not provide for vapour lounges.

Alberta has been more permissive, largely leaving it up to municipalities to regulate public cannabis consumption beyond duplicating that restrictions exist provincially for tobacco[TF1] , and most municipalities are following Calgary’s example of prohibiting public consumption. The Alberta provincial government has announced that a decision on lounges will not be made until regulations on edibles and extracts are completed, which will put the decision in the hands of the next provincial government.

Ontario has banned public consumption and was considering creating a regime to license cannabis lounges, which may or may not come to fruition with the change in power to the Progressive Conservatives. One positive development in Ontario is that the new PC government has suspended rules that would have prohibited lounges even for medical cannabis patients until further notice, which will allow current lounges to remain in operation until a final decision is made.

Besides Quebec, who like Alberta will permit cannabis smoking wherever tobacco smoking is allowed, the rest of the country has largely chosen to prohibit cannabis consumption in public places. Landlords and condominium boards across the country are already beginning to issue notices prohibiting cannabis consumption and cultivation in their properties, which will perpetuate the legalization paradox mentioned above: Some will be in a position of having to disobey regulations to consume a legal substance.

It will likely take time to fully realize the effects of public consumption regulations. In any case, Canada will be viewed as an excellent case of empirical data, given that it is the first G7 nation to legalize recreational cannabis and there are a variety of approaches to analyze.

Michael Zmuda is a cannabis advocate and influencer from Edmonton, Alberta. He is also known to occasionally commit acts of journalism and protect other people's computers from nefarious individuals.