It has been four months since cannabis became legal in Canada and, in that span of time, the City of Edmonton has only given out three bylaw violation tickets for cannabis smoking.
Numbers from the city reveal there have been 33 warnings about cannabis smoking; the numbers pale when compared to the 73 tickets given out by the city for tobacco smoking and the 847 warnings handed out for tobacco smoking since Oct. 17, 2018, which is the day it became legal to buy and smoke cannabis.
The numbers come months after the city grappled with how to oversee both tobacco and cannabis smoking and passed a new smoking bylaw that limits the public places where smoking, of any sort, is allowed.
The rules came into effect Oct. 17 and require smokers to be at least 10 metres away from windows, doors and transit stops if they want to light up. They also restrict smoking in certain public places such as parks with playgrounds, cemeteries, outdoor pools and skating rinks.
The permitted zones in the city where people can smoke is also patchwork. Popular areas such as Whyte Avenue have certain areas where smokers are allowed to congregate.
The city declined a request for an interview, deferring to public health authorities, but Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said the numbers are not completely surprising.
“Smoking is something that’s been allowed for many, many years. It’s been legal for many, many years and cannabis is just newly, just recently legalized,” he said.
Hagen said it is new territory when asked whether he was expecting the wide discrepancy between the numbers for tobacco and cannabis smoking violations.
“It’s new to Edmonton. We really didn’t know what to expect. Some of those people who are vaping may in fact be smoking cannabis and maybe going undetected,” he said.
“It is difficult for some people to comply with new rules when they come into play. However, I suspect as time goes on, people will become more and more compliant. What these numbers don’t reflect is the many, many people who are compliant.”
Hagen said the smoking bylaw is meant to set a new social standard.
“The tickets we’re seeing are the people who just need a little more public education, and if that education involves a ticket, so be it,” he said.
Wendell Klassen has smoked cigarettes for 50 years; Global News spoke with him on the sidewalk outside the Bonnie Doon Mall where he lit up a cigarette metres away from a sign saying no smoking was allowed within 10 metres of the mall.
“I think you should be able to smoke wherever you want to smoke,” he said, adding he had not seen the sign until it was pointed out to him.
“I don’t like the sign, I guess. I’ve never been bothered. Maybe I should be.”
Lee Lindeburg has been a cigarette smoker for more than 30 years; the construction worker said he has noticed the bylaw can be tricky to follow.
“It is actually getting hard for some of my subtrades, they actually have to move to have a cigarette,” he said.
“Fifteen-minute breaks on a construction site. If you have to walk 15 minutes just to go have a cigarette, how do you do that?”