By Lyonel Doherty
After some debate, the Town of Oliver has decided, for now, to exempt medical marijuana users from its smoke free bylaw.
Council recently sought clarification on medicinal marijuana use in public places and restrictions for smoking on public streets.
Corporate Officer Diane Vaykovich said licenced medical cannabis users are legally authorized, but they must also abide by municipal bylaws. She advised council not to exempt licence holders until the province approves the Cannabis Control and Licencing Act.
Chief Administrative Officer Cathy Cowan agreed.
“We don’t feel at this time that it (the exemption) is a necessary clause.”
But the motion (exemption) passed, with Mayor Ron Hovanes and Councillor Petra Veintimilla opposed.
It was Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger who argued for the exemption, saying it’s a Charter of Rights issue.
“I just think it would be unfortunate for someone who uses medical marijuana to get a ticket or be asked to leave a park when they have a medical issue.”
Schwartzenberger said most medical marijuana users don’t smoke it but take it orally.
But Hovanes wasn’t convinced. He said the bylaw was designed to keep second-hand smoke out of public areas. He questioned if it’s necessary for medical cannabis users to take their medication while walking on the street. He stated if users have to walk farther away from the public to take their medication, then that’s what they should do.
But Mattes said it wouldn’t hurt to have the exemption in the bylaw, noting there could be legal challenges if the Town doesn’t recognize this right.
Veintimilla agreed with the mayor by saying the exemption isn’t necessary.
Vaykovich said introducing “grey areas” in the bylaw, such as the exemption, will make enforcement more challenging.
The bylaw prohibits smoking in outdoor public spaces such as parks, sports venues, outdoor recreational facilities, transit stops, and the cemetery. The prohibition excludes public streets except when used as part of an outdoor public event. So, if there is a parade on a particular street, you can’t smoke there.
The bylaw also prohibits smoking on any public premise or in any public vehicle. No one can smoke within six metres of an entrance or exit to any public premise. And employers or proprietors are responsible to ensure that no one smokes or vapes on their premises.
Although initial enforcement will largely be educational (warnings), officers will have the ability to ticket offenders. For example, people could face a $75 fine for smoking where they are not supposed to.
The bylaw is expected to be adopted June 25.