Cannabis legalization: Where you can and can’t smoke pot in Ottawa

A man smokes during a 4/20 rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, April 20, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Legalized marijuana is less than two days away, but with the province’s new cannabis legislation introduced only late last month, it’s possible some in Ottawa might still feel hazy about where they will be allowed to smoke marijuana as of Oct. 17.

It’s important to note there are several different rule-setters at play here in the national capital.

The Progressive Conservative government’s bill regulating recreational pot, which is working its way through the legislature now, will allow adults 19 years and older to smoke marijuana wherever cigarette smoking is permitted and will match places that are off-limits with those set out in the Smoke-Free Ontario Act.

READ MORE: How marijuana will be sold online in Ontario after it becomes legal next week

The city of Ottawa also has a no-smoking bylaw, which adds some extra restrictions on where people can light up any kind of substance within city limits. It’s possible the city might decide to add more down the road.

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There’s also the National Capital Commission (NCC) to consider. The federal Crown corporation owns a number of parks and outdoor spaces in Ottawa, which aren’t governed by city bylaws. And post-secondary institutions in Ottawa, too, have rolled out their own cannabis policies.

(Before we hit the details, it’s worth mentioning that if the PCs’ new pot rules don’t receive royal assent by Wednesday, the rules technically set to go into effect that day are stricter ones passed by the former Liberal government, which limited pot smoking to private residences only. However, everyone, including law enforcement, is prepping for the regulations outlined in the new bill, expected to pass soon.)

With all that in mind, here is a (non-exhaustive) primer on where you can and cannot smoke pot in Ottawa as of Oct. 17.

Where smoking marijuana is allowed, once the provincial cannabis legislation passes

  • If you are a homeowner, you can smoke in your house and in your yard. But if you rent an apartment with a no-smoking clause in your lease, you have to abide by the contract
  • Designated smoking rooms in hotels, motels and inns
  • Parks and outdoor spaces that don’t belong to the city of Ottawa, including those owned by the National Capital Commission (scroll down for more information on the NCC’s approach)
  • Sidewalks
  • Parked vehicles and boats with passengers 16 years of age and older

Where smoking marijuana is not allowed

  • Any apartments and condominiums in buildings where the condo board has passed a no-smoking policy
  • Common areas in condo and apartment buildings, post-secondary residences, health care facilities, hotels, motels and inns (including lobbies, elevators, stairwells and hallways)
  • Municipal property (including city parks, beaches, ball diamonds and other playing and sports fields)
  • Enclosed workplaces and their common areas (including washrooms, lobbies and parking garages)
  • Bars and restaurants (including covered and uncovered outdoor patios)
  • At or near schools, both public and private
  • On or near children’s playgrounds
  • Licensed child care facilities (including when children are not present)
  • On hospitals grounds or near hospital entrances and exits, as well as areas were home health care workers work
  • Long-term, psychiatric and veterans’ care facilities (unless they have a controlled smoking area)
  • Moving vehicles and boats (in other words, don’t drive high)
  • Vehicles and boats (parked or moving) with passengers under the age of 16

The city of Ottawa has launched a website with more information on using recreation and medical marijuana, available here.

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Post-secondary institutions

  • Algonquin College: The west-end Ottawa college recently announced it would undertake consultations about moving towards smoke-free campuses. In the meantime, the school will be enforcing an interim policy banning all smoking on its three campuses (Ontario, Pembroke and Perth), from Oct. 15 to Jan. 1, 2019. Algonquin says the status quo remains for employees and students with a medical marijuana prescription.
  • Carleton University: Smoking pot and growing cannabis plants will not be permitted on Carleton’s campus. The university is also banning deliveries of cannabis ordered online. Carleton says it will accommodate medical cannabis consumption on a case-by-case basis.
  • La Cité collegiale: A spokesperson for La Cité told Global News last week that there will be “zero tolerance” for smoking marijuana in all campus facilities and on all college properties. La Cité had previously told media it would permit pot smoking in a specific area on campus, but the spokesperson said that is no longer the case and the school had not yet finalized its cannabis policy at that point. The college said its full policy will be published online at the beginning of this week.
  • St. Paul’s University: Similar to Algonquin, the school will enforce an interim policy banning all smoking on campus, effective Oct. 17, and launch consultations on a permanent, smoke-free campus policy. The interim rules will remain in effect until the school announces its plans for a permanent policy, which will most likely be in 2019, a spokesperson said.
  • University of Ottawa: The downtown-based school on Monday afternoon also announced interim rules for cannabis smoking on campus, saying it will be allowed “wherever tobacco is permitted” by provincial legislation. Smoking and vaping marijuana will be prohibited in already-established smoke-free zones, including university residences. And, like Carleton, the school is banning students from having pot ordered online delivered to campus. The school said it’s hosting consultations on a permanent cannabis policy until mid-December.

NCC working on cannabis policy

There are a number of parks and other outdoor spaces in Ottawa that belong to the NCC – including Confederation Park, Major’s Hill Park and Hog’s Back Park, to name a few – and therefore don’t fall within the city’s jurisdiction.

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Mark Kristmanson, the head of the NCC, told reporters in September the commission is working on its own cannabis policy and ultimately wants it to be “as consistent as possible” with municipal pot smoking rules and restrictions.

In the meantime, however, NCC regulations don’t outright ban smoking in the areas it owns and manages, which leaves some interesting inconsistencies in the short term among outdoor smoking rules in the national capital.

READ MORE: Ottawa mayor orders city staff to start prep work on private pot shops for next council

Kristmanson said on Sept. 18 the NCC plans to deal with instances of marijuana smoking on its parkland on a “case-by-case” basis from October 2018 to June 2019.

“The vast majority of people enjoy our public and green spaces in a respectful manner and we do not expect this to change,” NCC spokesperson Jean Wolff said in a statement late last week. “Should there be situations that deviate from that, the NCC will take necessary action as it does normally.”

The statement added that since the city of Ottawa passed more stringent smoke-free regulations in 2012, the commission has asked festival and event organizers who rent its parks and outdoor spaces to “promote” a smoke-free environment and post no-smoking signs.

So, as of Oct. 17, if you go to Major Hill’s Park on a regular day and light up a cigarette or a joint, you’re not breaking any rules. But if a festival is taking place in the park, you can’t participate in smoking of any sort on the property.

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READ MORE: No plans to use roadside device that tests saliva for pot: Ottawa police

Asked why the NCC is holding off until June 2019 to implement a marijuana consumption policy, Wolff said the commission wants to watch how the new rules around legal cannabis will unfold in the coming months.

“The National Capital Commission will closely monitor all the relevant regulatory and legislative developments as they run their course, with a view of bringing a cannabis specific policy to the agenda of the board of directors by June 2019,” Wolff wrote.

Additional restrictions

A spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney confirmed in a statement late last week that the door is open for Ontario municipalities to further restrict where cannabis can be consumed once it’s legal and the government’s new bill is passed.

“Generally speaking municipalities would be able to pass bylaws respecting the smoking and vaping of cannabis that are more restrictive than the rules proposed under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act,” the statement said. “This includes existing bylaws and bylaws passed in the future.”

Enacting anything above and beyond existing no-smoking rules will be up to the next city council, elected on Oct. 22.

– With files from the Canadian Press


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