Halifax smoking ban begins as city aims for strict limits on public pot smoking
Halifax’s sweeping smoking ban began Monday with a city spokesperson saying it stems in part from citizen dislike of encountering clouds of marijuana vapours in public areas.
The rules making it illegal to smoke or vape nicotine and cannabis on municipal properties puts the East Coast city in the vanguard of cities that want pot kept out of public areas — and comes just two days before recreational cannabis is legalized.
The bylaw means that people strolling through the municipally maintained sidewalks, parks and properties throughout the capital’s sprawling 5,490 square kilometre area — about the size of Prince Edward Island — will initially be warned against smoking in public areas and will eventually face fines.
Enforcement will be carried out by a team of 20 by-law officers, and come on top of existing provincial legislation which already prohibits smoking within four metres of a doorway, window or vent to a business.
As the weeks and months go by, the officers could start handing out tickets, with possible fines ranging from $25 to $2,000.
“It is taking a completely different look from a smoker’s perspective. Prior to today, smokers could smoke anywhere they wanted until they saw a sign which said they couldn’t,” said Brendan Elliott, the city’s spokesman.
“Now they can’t smoke unless they see a sign that says they can.”
There were nine such designated smoking areas in the city by noon local time on Monday, with the city planning to have 30 sites operating by the end of the week and more locations as the public feedback to the bylaw flows back to the municipality.
Elliott said the city council determined the blanket prohibition was the best way to enforce a law to stop people from smoking marijuana in public places.
“The second-hand smoke aspect was big for us, and we’ve been hearing for years that people didn’t like being hit by a cloud of smoke when they walked out of a building, and so we saw this as an opportunity to address that,”
It’s also the simplest way to stop the smoking of marijuana in a municipal public space, he said.
“From an enforcement perspective, there’s a real challenge in being able to say what that person is smoking is a joint, or is it a cigarette?”
“If we were to just ban marijuana and to try and enforce that, we would have to seize the marijuana joint, send it off to a lab and then come back to courts and prove it was cannabis. That was more taxing than what we wanted.”
In the early weeks, education will be the priority, said Elliott.
Smokers will be given a pamphlet that gives them a website indicating the nearest designated areas — and the bylaw enforcement officer may also direct them to the smoking spot, he said.
Meanwhile, Halifax isn’t the only spot in Canada with the sweeping rules.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority did a review of existing bylaws and municipalities from June to August and found a handful of other Canadian municipalities that have rules prohibiting smoking in public areas.
They include Kentville, N.S., an Annapolis Valley community which has prohibited smoking in municipal spaces since 2010.
Earlier this year, Wood Buffalo, Alta., also passed a bylaw prohibiting all forms of smoking and vaping in public places and declared itself a “smoke free community.”
The mayor of Hampstead, Que., said in an interview his residential community on the island of Montreal moved to the full restrictions on smoking in public places as part of an effort to counter the open, public smoking of marijuana.
Bill Steinburg said in an interview the community opted for a blanket prohibition in municipal public places because the area is primarily residential and, unlike large cities, there isn’t a need to have designated areas where people addicted to nicotine can go to smoke or vape.
“They can smoke at home. I don’t think it (smoking marijuana) is good,” he said.
Some groups have argued the community-wide prohibitions go to far, as the fines and enforcement will disproportionately hit the poor and marginalized.
“The proposed smoking by-law will disproportionately affect Halifax’s black, Indigenous, homeless, and poor citizens. It is, in effect, a social policy whose outcome is to criminalize the poor and increase scrutiny and risk into their lives,”
says a policy statement issued by the YWCA Halifax.
The group noted that in Nova Scotia in 2013, 65 percent of all smokers made less than $29,000 annually.
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Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press