‘Not a black and white issue’: Public input wanted on cannabis consumption sites

The city of Calgary is gathering input from its citizens over the next couple of weeks on proposed sites where people would be allowed to consume marijuana in public.

The city has a population of almost 1.3 million people and the public sites are considered necessary because landlord and tenant agreements, condo bylaws and hotel rules can prohibit marijuana consumption.

In Calgary, a debate about where cannabis can be legally consumed. Photo by Justin Aikin via Unsplash.
In Calgary, a debate about where cannabis can be legally consumed. Photo by Justin Aikin via Unsplash.

However, a municipality can approve designated areas where cannabis can be smoked, vaped or eaten.

The use of recreational pot is to become legal Oct. 17.

Matt Zabloski, the lead for Calgary’s cannabis legalization project, expects a lot of input.

“We’re expecting a fairly big response,” he said Monday. “Obviously cannabis is becoming more and more on people’s radar and we’re assuming there’s a lot of Calgarians that are going to be very interested in what happens from here.”

Four sites have been identified. All are on the edge of downtown and include green spaces and a city park. There would be strict rules at the proposed sites regarding the radius of the consumption area, signage, waste receptacles and tamper-proof ashtrays.

Feedback is to be brought to a public meeting of city council Oct. 9.

Under Calgary legislation a ward can only be considered for a site if it’s requested by the local councillor. In this case, all four areas are in the ward of Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, the only one of 14 council members to make a request.

“When we restricted cannabis to the extent that we did we created a situation where some citizens might not have the opportunity to legally consume a legal substance, and so we had to create an opportunity for that to happen,” said Carra.

“I felt it was my duty to then figure out whether and how we could create public-use sites.”

Some constituents using Twitter were giving Carra an earful Monday.

“I would like you to stop inviting chaos into our neighbourhood. Your proposal is crazy-making,” tweeted Lynne Rennie. “All four proposed sites are in Ward 9 because of your personal philosophy. No other councillor wants these in their wards.”

Ali McMillan questioned why cannabis could be consumed in a park but not alcohol.

“You won’t let me drink wine in a park but cannabis gets a special pass? My asthma and my kids will not appreciate sharing the park with a cannabis garden,” she wrote.

Carra said he isn’t surprised there are strong opinions.

“It’s a little politically fraught but I’ve never really shied away from tough conversations,” he said.

“This is not a black-and-white issue. This is a nuanced, difficult, fraught situation and we’re going to have an interesting conversation.”

Zabloski said concern for public safety is why input is needed.

“I would emphasize that by no means are these going to happen for sure at this point. We also want to hear from everybody who has the potential to be affected by it.”

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