By Zachery Cooper
A plume of pungent smoke puffs out of the person walking down the street ahead of me. It makes my nose twitch, my brow furrow, and my mouth say Maui Wowie.
It’s a common enough smell on Vancouver Island, which may be weed central in Canada. But with marijuana use set to become legal in Canada in July, not everyone is looking forward to the prospect of yet more weed smoke in public places. Do we need a new set of rules to govern when, where, and how cannabis is recreationally used? I set out to put that question to a range of Vancouver Islanders, users and non-users alike.
Sarah Crann-Adair is founder of Practical Substance Advice (PSA), a harm reduction organization that originated in the residences at Vancouver Island University. “I think it should be treated exactly the same as cigarettes,” she says. While recognizing that cannabis has a different effect than tobacco when smoked, Crann-Adair suggests that lawmakers should continue to play a strong role in regulating its use, at least to begin with. “I think it’s good for the government to start with strict rules and dial them back as people get used to having legal access to marijuana and being able to use it in public.”
At The Globe Nanaimo, Chris Lavis sits with his back to a big, bright second-floor window that looks out onto the City’s harbour. Lavis is business manager at the combination cannabis dispensary and café, located in a historic building that once housed a strip club.
“I feel like there should be some sort of etiquette for smoking it in public,” he says. “Just like cigarettes and vaping, certain people don’t want to be exposed to it and I understand that.” The legal hazards of smoking weed in public may be diminishing, but Lavis still tries to be discreet about it. “I’m mindful of people around me that may not like the smell.”
The rules, he says, should be the “same type of etiquette that a smoker would consider. You don’t want to encroach on other people’s right to enjoy the outdoors on their own terms. I would tend to find myself a quiet place to go smoke or somewhere away from other people.” He also suggests edibles as an acceptable way to dose in public.
Like other cannabis cafés, The Globe itself offers a sympathetic space for users. Downstairs from Lavis’s office, I take a seat in the large, brick-lined dining and smoking area. The tables are complemented with something you don’t see much in restaurants any more — ashtrays. A man rolls a joint at a table next to me, while a pair of friends in a nearby booth pass one back-and-forth. The waitress brings me water, and a bong to another table. A haze of marijuana smoke lies still in the air.
Also upstairs is a patio where one can smoke both tobacco and cannabis. An employee behind a showcase of glass pipes tells me that to smoke here a person needs to be a member. To become a member, you need to be 19 and have two valid pieces of I.D.
By offering a dedicated space for cannabis use, places like The Globe also help keep the smoke away from those who don’t want to deal with it — or can’t. Lys Morton has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which inhibits the brain’s ability to understand signals sent by the body. “The fun part of having sensory processing disorder, I’m way more sensitive to cigarette smoke, marijuana, and vape smoke than the average Joe,” he says.
Can there be a common ground found in society for cannabis indulgers and the general public?
“It’s knowing that, hey there’s a place where they get to smoke, and this is my place where I don’t really have to interact with it, and being respectful on both sides,” Morton says.
And Vancouver Islanders might do well to remember that, while the scent of weed might be common here, that’s not the case everywhere. Allan Lingwood, Chief Compliance Officer at FARM, a cannabis dispensary in Victoria, notes that “recreational cannabis use may be acceptable locally, as the culture is so ingrained, but it is not at all acceptable to many of the tourists that come to town and support our local economy.”
Lingwood expects that there will be “necessary regulations around public consumption and I would assume they will look very similar to other smoking or vaping by-laws. I believe these to be in place to build a mutual respect amongst smokers and non-smokers.”
So, what can smokers do individually to create that respect? Based on the feedback I received during interviews and from studying tobacco and vapour bylaws in various cities on Vancouver Island, I’ve created a little etiquette list around smoking up:
1. Be mindful of where you’re blowing your smoke.
2. Be mindful of young people, the elderly, or anyone with potentially weak lungs — ie., someone with an oxygen tank– and smoke away from them.
3. Apply local bylaws regulating tobacco use to your cannabis use too. Typically these designate playgrounds, playing fields, public squares and bus stops as smoke-free spaces.
4. At concerts and outdoor events, use designated smoking areas.
5. Do not smoke within six meters of doorways, air intakes, or open windows at public or private workplaces.
6. When you’re finished, discard your roach, plastic wrapping, or any other smoking-related paraphernalia in a garbage can. Needless to say, make sure your roach is fully extinguished.
7. In summer, avoid smoking near or on dry grass.
8. Do not supply, or smoke with, people under the legal age in your province.
9. Cannabis has an intoxicating effect, so don’t smoke and drive. Similar to drinking and driving, if you’re found to be under the influence of marijuana while driving you’ll receive a DUI as well as large fines and penalties.
But mostly it comes down to common sense. In search of the everyday smoker, I take to the streets of Nanaimo, and find Alex Kennedy at a bus shelter. In conversation, he confirms that he’s a long-time pot smoker. He notes that, for now, smoking it in public is still technically illegal, and so “people mainly keep it to themselves.” But when the day of liberation comes?
“There’s bound to be a celebratory period,” Alex says, while someone nearby lights a cigarette. “But soon after that, we’re going to have to get in line and keep it respectful.”