Ottawa Public Health’s proposal to ban balcony pot smoking ignites debate
Should condo owners and tenants be allowed to smoke pot in their homes and on their balconies?
Ottawa Public Health’s newly released position paper has ignited debate on those questions, and set the scene for a confrontation between pot smokers who want to exercise their hard-won right to use legal weed later this year, and non-smokers who want to be protected from the effects of second-hand smoke.
Shery Dia, a writer and University of Ottawa student, supports the health unit’s call for a strict smoking ban inside multi-unit buildings. She plans to move from her current apartment because of the persistent incursion of pot smoke into her fifth-floor unit of a Gloucester highrise.
“I smell it in the corridor when I go to take the elevator, I smell in when I’m sitting on my balcony. Sometime — and I don’t know how — it gets inside my apartment,” said Dia. “It’s really disturbing me. I hate any kind of smoke. I’m very sensitive to smells.”
Others, however, contend the public health agency’s recommendation to ban pot smoking and cannabis vaping from rental units and condos — even from their balconies — goes too far.
Craig Jones, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada, said the proposed regulations are heavy-handed, particularly as it relates to smoking outdoors.
“If you prohibit people from smoking on a balcony, how are you gong to enforce it?” he asked. “Are you going to create a stand-alone, separate police agency to enforce balcony prohibitions?”
Earlier this week, Ottawa’s acting medical officer of health recommended that the Ontario government extend its proposed ban on pot smoking in common areas of condos, apartment buildings and university residences. Dr. Vera Etches said the province should prohibit smoking of any kind — cannabis, e-liquids and herbal shisha products — in all multi-unit residential buildings. The ban, she said, should extend to condos, apartment buildings, university residences and hotels and their balconies.
“The available evidence on cannabis smoke,” she wrote, “demonstrates that (it) contains tar, fine particulate matter and many of the same harmful chemicals and cancer-causing agents as tobacco smoke.”
Etches said second-hand pot smoke can travel through a building’s cracks, windows and ventilation ducts, and can harm pregnant women, children and those with respiratory problems.
In the same document, Ottawa’s public health agency expressed its opposition to designated pot-smoking areas outside apartments and condos, and to licensed cannabis lounges. “Allowing designated smoking areas risks normalizing cannabis use, poses enforcement challenges and undermines tobacco control efforts,” Etches argued.
Jonathan Zaid, executive director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, an education and advocacy group, said Ottawa Public Health’s recommendations fail to respect the rights of those who need marijuana for pain relief.
“I think it’s ludicrous,” he said, “and, quite frankly, out of touch with the rights of medical cannabis patients to use cannabis in their own homes. There is a duty to accommodate people who have disabilities or medical needs.”
Darlene Powell, 67, of Winchester said she believes the government should allow people to do what they want inside their own homes. “I find that when you start telling people what they can or cannot consume within the boundaries of their own legally owned space, that’s just going too far,” she said.
“We’re being regulated to death,” said Powell, who described herself as “a child of the ’60s and no stranger to marijuana.”
Marino Francispillai, program manager of school and community mental health and wellness at Ottawa Public Health, said the agency’s recommendations are consistent with the city’s policies to limit exposure to second-hand smoke. The city bans smoking in public parks, patios and beaches.
“We’re really looking at this from a population perspective,” he said, “and making sure we’re protecting those who are trying to avoid being exposed to second-hand smoke.”