By Trevor Busch
There will be no smoky public celebrations permitted in the community in relation to cannabis legalization on Oct. 17, as town council recently moved to finalize a strict prohibition on public use of the substance.
Community Standards Bylaw 15-2018, Part 6 – Smoking and Electronic Devices, Sec. 23 (A), prohibits carrying or possessing a lit cigarette, cigar or pipe, and burning tobacco or any other substance in a public premises, workplace or public vehicle. Five meter setbacks for use near any playground, waterpark or spray park, skate park or sports field have also been included, as well as entrances or exits to a public premises.
Sampling is being permitted inside an enclosed premises where the “primary function… is the sale of electronic smoking devices.”
Under Part 7 – Cannabis, Sec. 24, cannabis use is prohibited in any public place other than a residence or temporary residence, while council may (Sec. 25) designate “specific locations within the Town of Taber where cannabis may be consumed.”
The bylaw also adds general definitions for cannabis itself, electronic smoking devices, playgrounds, public premises, public vehicles, skate parks, and sports fields.
At town council’s Aug. 20 regular meeting, Coun. Garth Bekkering questioned if the definition of a “public premises” in the bylaw would restrict individuals from smoking tobacco on a public sidewalk.
“The definition of a public premises is not intended to mean a sidewalk,” said Chief Graham Abela of the Taber Police Service. “A sidewalk is considered a ‘public place,’ and the purpose of this bylaw is not to prohibit smoking in public places aside from what is specifically listed.”
Bekkering didn’t find this explanation entirely satisfying.
“Nevertheless, it says ‘public premises means any place to which the public may have either express or implied access for the purpose of worship, entertainment, recreation, business or amusement.’ To me, that means a sidewalk. For example, if I walk on the sidewalk for recreation, and I’m having a cigarette, this says I can’t do that. Am I all wet here, chief?”
Abela suggested that where words sometimes fail to address all circumstances, an officer’s discretion comes into play.
“The problem with wording in legal documents such as this is that the definitions are sometimes difficult to encapsulate all the contexts and all eventualities. So many times, in many ways, it’s left to the discretion of the officers involved with the enforcement of the bylaw and the policies that are in place with the service to ensure the appropriate and proper enforcement of the bylaw. It is not the intention to prohibit anyone with this bylaw from smoking in a public place that is not listed within this bylaw. I’m not of the same view as yourself, but that’s not to say I don’t understand where you’re coming from.”
On July 16, the bylaw had been tabled to allow administration to include a shisha definition and use.
Under Sec. 23 (A), administration included the phrase “any other substance” to address the issue involving shisha.
Shisha is a molasses-based tobacco concoction traditionally smoked in a hookah.
According to administration, changes under the bylaw do not reflect “any prohibition on public smoking, vaping, etc. but does limit uses in places described within this specific bylaw.”
Fines for violations of any of the amendments range from $150 for a first offence to $500 – $750 for a third or subsequent offence.
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to pass third and final reading of Community Standards Bylaw 15-2018.