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Four potential Calgary cannabis consumption zones rolled out by city

It seems Calgary councilors aren’t in a rush to set up public consumption sites in their wards for the pending Oct. 17 legalization of cannabis.

On Monday, the City of Calgary unveiled four potential sites that could become spaces where people can legally smoke up – all of them in Ward 9.

Calgary’s bylaws on cannabis consumption forbid users from smoking marijuana in any public spaces. Existing smoking rules mean many condo owners, apartment dwellers, and tourists staying in hotels may not have a legal space to consume a legal drug come October.

Ward 9 councilor Gian-Carlo Carra said his ward is no stranger to hosting pilots, and he was happy to start the ball rolling on potential public consumption sites around his ward.

“I know we have to have a thoughtful conversation about it,” said Carra. “I guess I was the first one to raise my hand.”

Under the framework set up by council, it’s up to councilors to bring forward requests on behalf of residents in their ward.

Carra said he worked with city administration to find these four potential sites, rather than waiting for residents to come to him with suggestions. Because of rules stating where the consumption sites cannot be (within 150 metres of a school, near off-leash areas, etc), the parks department came up with the suggested sites.

Matt Zabloski, the city’s project lead on cannabis legalization, said the spaces will not take up large swaths of the parks. The spaces for public consumption will be about 5 square metres in size.

Councillors who spoke with LiveWire said they either hadn’t heard requests from their constituents about setting up sites, or they had heard too many concerns about potential problems with cannabis consumption.

Ward 13’s Diane Colley-Urquhart said she worries that the rules as set up are unenforceable.

She said she was recently dining outside on Stephen Avenue and the smell from people consuming cannabis in that space was almost constant.

“The wafting of marijuana was unbelievable,” she said.

However, Colley-Urquhart also said she would work with anyone who comes to her and wants to set up a site. It just hasn’t happened yet.

“People need to be given an option because if we haven’t got places for people to legally go, you’re going to run into what I did on the weekend at Stephen Avenue Mall,” she said.

Ward 4’s councillor Sean Chu said he has heard nothing but concern from his constituents, while in Ward 14, Coun. Peter Demong said he wants to take a wait-and-see approach.

“I’m kind of waiting to see what happens once it gets legalized,” said Demong. “I think that clause (allowing for public consumption sites) will be more used once people see what’s actually happening on the ground.”

Brian Beck, president of the Bridgeland Riverside Community Association, said he had some concerns that the city pitched a specific site rather than just starting a more general consultation on the idea.

“If we could’ve talked about the idea of public consumption in our community at a conceptual level, and talked about what the issues might be, that might’ve been less inflammatory to a sensitive topic,” said Beck.

He said social media had lit up in response to the pitch, and local residents had concerns about the proposed site at Murdoch Park.

Gordon Hayes, vice president of the Calgary Cannabis Club, said it’s up to cannabis users to speak up and request these sites.

“We didn’t get to the point where we’re at now with legalization by sitting down and letting things happen. We got to where we are through activism.”

He said there was an email letter-writing campaign earlier when the debate over public consumption was taking place earlier this year.

Hayes said people now need to stand up and speak for themselves, and that there’s power in numbers, because there will be plenty of voices that don’t want public consumption sites near them.

“Build a community around yourself so when you make these sorts of requests, they hold a bit more weight,” said Hayes.

Carra said he respects that many people feel cannabis should be treated exactly like tobacco when it comes to consumption, but he also feels it’s easier to relax regulations than it is to tighten them.

“You want to keep the barn door shut until you’re ready to let the horse out of the barn.”

The proposed sites are only proposals right now. The city is now looking for public feedback through its engage process. Citizens can also speak directly to council during a public hearing when the matter is heard on Oct. 9.

The four proposed locations are as follows:

The green space on 11 Avenue SE between 11 and 12 Street (Inglewood)

The green space adjacent to Wildlands parking lot on 9 Avenue SE past 22 Street (Inglewood)

Murdoch Park on the southern end of 7A Street NE (Bridgeland)

Green space located north of shopping plaza at Glenmore Trail and Ogden Road SE (Ogden)