By Lyonel Doherty
Medical cannabis users are no longer exempt from the Town of Oliver’s Smoke Free Bylaw.
On Monday, council voted to reverse a previous decision to exempt medicinal marijuana patients from prohibitions in the new bylaw.
The only councillor to oppose the reversal was Larry Schwartzenberger, who was steadfast in his view that medical cannabis users should not be prohibited from taking their medicine in public places.
“I think it is a Charter right,” he said, noting it would be wrong to ticket these people or ask them to leave a public space or event.
Schwartzenberger noted that most medical cannabis users don’t smoke it but take it orally.
“Just because we add some compassion to the bylaw doesn’t make it wrong (just different).”
But Chief Administrative Officer Cathy Cowan pointed out that BC legislation will prohibit cannabis to be smoked in places that children frequent, such as parks, playgrounds and recreational areas. She noted there will not be a provincial exemption for medical cannabis users. Therefore, Cowan suggested removing the exemption from the bylaw so that it is consistent with other municipalities and the provincial rule.
“Our bylaw would not be valid if adopted with that (exemption) in it,” she said.
Town staff pointed out that allowing the exemption would create a bylaw that does not protect people from second-hand smoke. They also noted that enforcing the bylaw would be a challenge when one group is excluded.
Corporate Officer Diane Vaykovich said Interior Health advises that Washington State found that the number of medical licences after legalization reduced by 80 per cent. “It is likely British Columbia will see similar numbers,” she said.
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes said he views the bylaw as literally smoke free. If medical cannabis users are allowed to light up in public places, they are sharing that smoke.
Not only that, there is “higher legislation that we cannot supersede,” he said.
Councillor Dave Mattes said he supports the exemption but acknowledged that Oliver would be in contravention of a higher authority if it excluded medical cannabis users from the prohibition.
“I think it will be challenged down the road, but until that happens we have to follow provincial laws.”
Local resident G. Isreal told council that he smoked three and a half packs of cigarettes a day for 22 years.
“It pains me to smell it on children, so I would be apprehensive to let my child around cannabis.”
Isreal said if the town exempts medical cannabis users, it must make an exemption for others, too. Otherwise, conflicts will arise, he noted.
The bylaw is slated for adoption on July 9.