Town council has started the process of amending its smoking bylaw to include recently-legalized cannabis.
The amended bylaw passed first and second reading on Oct. 23, and will now go out for public consultation.
The final shape of the bylaw will be up to the next council, which takes power in early November.
“I think we need to keep it simple,” said Coun. Kandis Jameson, who will be the town’s next mayor.
To that effect, she and other councillors backed removing a section stating that a person must be 10 metres from the entrance to a town building to be able to smoke marijuana.
Councillors expressed support for banning cannabis smoking anywhere in public, except in designated areas.
“I know that my intent when I put the motion forward to do this was to have an outright ban on consumption in public, other than designated areas,” said Coun. Keith Dohey.
The councillor said that might be something like a beer gardens at a sporting event.
“That would have to be something that would have to be applied on, in my opinion,” he said.
Coun. Steve Anderson said, based on his reading of cannabis bylaws in other jurisdictions like Calgary and Edmonton, Hay River should account for sports events or festivals.
However, Mayor Brad Mapes expressed skepticism about that idea, noting that smoking marijuana is not the same as having a beer.
If there’s a cannabis gardens at a ball tournament, he said there could be 50 to 100 people smoking pot.
“You might as well give everybody gasmasks,” he said.
Anderson also wondered about the ‘voluntary penalties’ in the proposed bylaw.
“If we catch you smoking pot, we just ask you to give us the money,” said Mayor Brad Mapes with a chuckle. “If you’re really happy, you just give us the money.”
Judy Goucher, the senior administrative officer with the town, said the proposed bylaw is recommended by the NWT Association of Communities.
“They put it together as a template for all Northwest Territories communities,” she said. “Not all have followed this template. It’s a good jumping off point, I would say. That’s what second reading will get you is an opportunity for councillors and the public to say we like this, we don’t like this and can we come back with something that’s bigger, better, simpler, whatever.”
Goucher noted there are already federal and territorial laws and regulations around the legalization of cannabis.
“I would caution the municipality in terms of building a bylaw that adds to our cost of administering this, or that causes overlap or duplication to the other legislation that’s currently in place,” she said.
Anderson, who will be returning to the new council, struck a conciliatory note in the discussion on how to regulate cannabis in the community.
“It is legal. It’s here,” he said. “We have to deal with it appropriately, professionally.”
Anderson noted that, since cannabis became legal in Canada on Oct. 17, he has not heard of any issues in Hay River.
“Tell me if I’m wrong,” he said. “It is legal. And I think it’s something that we need to respect both sides of the community.”