At least for one year, Newmarket residents can smoke or vape tobacco, pot and other substances such as vape juice in the comfort of their own backyards or at local, private establishments that offer a designated smoking area.
But not everyone on council is thrilled about the new draft smoking bylaw presented Tuesday at committee of the whole.
The bylaw that emerged from the weeds of public debate and consultation treats tobacco, the newly legalized cannabis and other substances the same. If approved by council next week, it will ban pot smoking at all town-owned facilities, parks, trails and open green spaces for a one-year trial period.
Temporary designated smoking areas for tobacco and cannabis will be considered for special events on a case-by-case basis, along with the possible creation of permanent tobacco-only designated smoking areas at town facilities, if required.
Due to enforcement challenges, cannabis use is permitted in private backyards. Private property owners can decide what is allowed in any designated smoking area.
Councillor Grace Simon expressed strong opposition to allowing pot smoking or vaping in private backyards.
“We all have a right to enjoy our backyards,” Simon said. “I’m struggling with allowing people to smoke cannabis in their backyards and taking away from others’ enjoyment, these yards are small in alot of our subdivisions. We’re trying to set a standard that’s well beyond the ordinary, and encouraging people to have healthy lifestyles and making choices, and setting a standard for Newmarket is our responsibility as well.”
Already, a stringent set of rules around smoking and vaping cannabis has been laid out in the Smoke-free Ontario Act, including that you cannot smoke or vape on patios, including the public areas within nine metres, within 20 metres of schools and child-care facilities, and playgrounds and community centres.
But the habit is permitted on municipal sidewalks and roadways.
Barrie, Bradford, Orillia and Vaughan enacted similar bylaws banning smoking/vaping of cannabis, tobacco or other substances on all public property, but designated smoking areas may be established.
The town’s draft smoking bylaw took into consideration the opinions of more than 1,500 Newmarket residents aged over 19 who participated in an online and telephone survey.
The majority of respondents would permit smoking and vaping of both tobacco and cannabis in backyards, and tobacco smoking and vaping in designated smoking areas on private property seems acceptable to most, but not cannabis, deputy town clerk Kiran Saini said.
“About 80 per cent of respondents indicated that they never smoke or vape tobacco or cannabis products,” Saini said. “It was clear the majority of respondents were non-smokers.”
The survey questions dealt with tobacco and cannabis separately, as well as vaping and smoking separately, to gauge public attitudes toward consumption methods.
The vast majority of online and telephone respondents said smoking and vaping tobacco or cannabis should be banned from public green spaces, trails and public gathering spaces beyond the 20-metre limited covered under provincial legislation.
Public opinion is divided, however, on smoking or vaping tobacco or cannabis in designated smoking areas on private property. A strong majority said tobacco should be permitted, while only about half of the respondents gave the nod to cannabis.
A majority said permit both in the backyards of private homes.
Mayor John Taylor took issue with designated smoking areas on public property.
“I fully agree with temporary designated smoking areas at special events, but I’m struggling with this idea of providing council-sanctioned public spaces where you can stand and smoke marijuana and cigarettes in public areas,” Taylor said.
Meanwhile, Newmarket resident Nagwa Mounir appeared before council Tuesday to urge them to outright ban marijuana smoking and vaping.
“Is it asking too much if we request that the very air we breath would be kept from the smell of marijuana smoke?” Mounir said. “This marijuana smoke is very heavy, it lingers for a very long time. Backyard smoke will go to the right and to the left, and what should neighbours do? Close themselves in?”
The draft smoking bylaw exempts medical marijuana users from the rules, permitted they can show supporting documentation if challenged by a bylaw officer.
Council still has to finalize the draft smoking bylaw at its May 27 meeting.To read the draft bylaw, visit here.