Rules permitting marijuana use at festivals and events were approved by a council committee Wednesday, despite protest votes from some councillors who say the city is in danger of overregulating Calgarians’ ability to consume the drug.
Committee members voted 6-2 in favour of amending the bylaw to allow designated cannabis consumption zones, similar to existing smoking areas, at festivals and public events.
Councillors Evan Woolley and Jyoti Gondek voted against the amendment, arguing it represented an unnecessarily complex workaround to the city’s ban on pot use in public places.
“There has been cannabis consumed at folk fest for many, many, many years, and that’s been happening without incident. This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Woolley. “Often times, government and bureaucracies begin with overregulation.
“Do we want to spend strained police resources on ticketing and bugging people consuming a product that is now going to be legal?”
The proposed rules — which still must go to a full vote of council for final approval — would allow for dedicated cannabis consumption zones in fenced areas, where alcohol and tobacco would not be permitted.
And since provincial legislation prohibits the sale of cannabis at events, users would be required to bring their own supply for smoking or vaping.
The prohibition on sales is proving to be an annoyance for festival organizers, who bear the additional costs of setting up the cannabis zones without the ability to recoup costs through sales or sponsorships.
“We estimate the costs of infrastructure for one consumption site to be approximately $2,500 — cost of training, plus additional volunteers and/or paid security to staff the entrance will increase that expense,” Calgary Folk Music Festival executive director Sara Leishman told committee members.
Gondek said she’s frustrated with inconsistencies in provincial legislation that mean alcohol can be purchased on site but not cannabis.
“At a beer garden, you can only consume the liquor that you’ve purchased on site, it has to be licensed,” Gondek said. “Here, you can walk in with whatever you want and all the liability is assumed by the (host) of the cannabis garden. It’s ridiculous.
“We are stuck in a situation now, by not having any consumption publicly, we’re trying to carve out little places for people to consume and it’s become ridiculously messy.”
Following its decision to ban pot use in public places last April, council directed city administration to study options for the creation of designated cannabis areas. A report detailing possible locations is expected back at council on June 25.
Woolley, who opposes the public ban and the concept of dedicated consumption spaces, told reporters Wednesday some of those locations could include parks in the Beltline or downtown.
“Our focus of forcing people into specific public locations to consume has a huge amount of resource strain (and) has a huge amount of strain on the parks spaces or public spaces that we have identified as potential (sites),” Woolley said.
“We are creating a great (framework) through which you can purchase cannabis (and) then the city’s actually saying, ‘but you can’t consume it anywhere’, or, ‘you can consume it in these four parks in the downtown’. We’ve seen the negative consequences of that before. I do not understand why this is being thought of.”
Earlier in the day, committee members also heard Calgary police commission chair Brian Thiessen caution against imposing too many rules around consumption.
“One of the premises of the federal government legalizing marijuana was it was going to reduce impacts on policing, i.e. police could be freed up to do other things,” Thiessen said.
“The bylaws create more obligations for the service to enforce. And so, (Chief Chaffin) can’t say it, but I’ll say it: Yes, when you make more bylaws, and you make them more difficult to enforce and complex, that work all falls on the police service.”