Cannabis Nuisance Bylaw Update

Photo: Pixabay

Over the last week, I have been dwelling over the recent changes to HRM’s Nuisance Bylaw to ban smoking on municipal property. These changes are coming in response to the legalization of cannabis. Municipalities in Nova Scotia, British Colombia, and Alberta are in a particular dilemma on this issue because the provincial governments in those three provinces didn’t ban cannabis use in public the way most provinces did.

When I voted to amend the Nuisance Bylaw to cover smoking, I thought I was voting for a smoking ban on municipal property. I knew that would be controversial, but smoking is a nuisance in smell and litter, and a public health concern. The changes to HRM’s Nuisance Bylaw allows staff to designate smoking areas and what’s become clear to me since over the last two weeks from talking to the public and staff is that designated smoking areas are going to form a larger part of the overall picture than I ever realized. As a result, I’m having second thoughts as to how practical HRM’s approach is. The difficult political spot of having changed my mind.

The reason that HRM has to setup smoking areas is because of practicality and social equity. The practical piece is that in the absence of handy smoking areas, people will smoke on the sidewalk anyway in defiance of the bylaw. The equity piece is that many apartment buildings are nonsmoking which means that a sidewalk ban effectively makes it impossible for many who don’t own private space to legally smoke. Making an addiction illegal isn’t a great policy approach. The result of these two factors is that there will be many smoking areas. Staff are already looking at sanctioning existing smoking spots and establishing more as needed. There are 1000 signs ready for the initial roll-out.

Given how common designated smoking areas are likely to be, I find myself struggling to identify what the underlying point is? Why ban smoking on municipal property only to turnaround and then designate a whole bunch of smoking areas? What is achieved by saying “smoke here, but not there” when it’s all the same sidewalk? This bylaw won’t rid our streets of cigarettes, what it will do is create a lot of bureaucracy. The discussion about where smoking areas will be is going to be difficult and acrimonious with some businesses wanting them nearby (bars and restaurants) while other property owners will oppose having every smoker on the block puffing near them. It’ll be a lot of time and energy and, in the end, it likely won’t matter all that much because it will be a bylaw that’s often violated.

The changes to the Nuisance Bylaw are starting to feel like the worst of all worlds, a ban that’s not really a ban, that will consume a lot of time and energy and that is simply not practical. This feels like micromanagement of public space and I have come to conclude, as much as I would like smoking to disappear, that HRM’s approach doesn’t make practical sense.

The entire point of the recent changes to the Nuisance Bylaw is to deal with the legalization of cannabis and I believe that’s where the municipality should refocus its efforts. What I will propose tomorrow as an added agenda item (my colleagues have to be willing to add it to the agenda) is a request for a staff report to revisit changes to the Nuisance Bylaw to remove tobacco from the prohibition on smoking on municipal property. Removing tobacco from the Bylaw would mean that it would still prohibited to smoke cannabis on all municipal property. Maintaining restrictions on cannabis is important because we’re setting the post-legalization community standard for HRM. It seems reasonable to me that since you can’t walk down the street drinking a beer, the same should be true of cannabis.

Eliminating tobacco from the Nuisance Bylaw would remove the need to micromanage smoking areas, an effort that will take up a lot of time and energy with questionable results (all smoking in Parks would still be banned). Prohibiting smoking cannabis in public is the approach that Calgary has opted for with their bylaw amendments and it’s what I have come to believe HRM should do as well.


  1. Sam, I love your updates and really like the fact that you present you rationale for each decision you make. I agree in principle with your change of heart (mind) on removing tobacco from the Nuisance Bylaw. I am not a cannabis smoker; however, I have several questions regarding a completely ban on smoking cannabis in public. In terms of equity … There are no apartment buildings I know of that prohibit the drinking of alcohol, however non-smoking apartment buildings prohibit smoking cannabis as well as tobacco, so where will these cannabis users smoke ? Also, what about the medical cannabis user ? Many use cannabis to reduce anxiety and reduce pain… if there are no public areas for them to smoke, what do they do during an 8 hr shift at work. I don’t have answers to these questions but I believe they need to be asked. Maybe Calgary has found a way to deal with these issues. Also can you clarify for me what “in public” means ? Does that mean I can smoke or drink on my back deck but not my front porch ? Or will cannabis, tobacco and alcohol be fine so long as I am on my own property ?

    • Thanks Nancy. I think there are some clear differences between tobacco and cannabis. Tobacco is very addictive and society has been trying to move from a culture of permissiveness to one of restrictions. Cannabis is generally regarded as not being that addictive and is going from a culture of restriction to permissiveness. Cannabis is primarily a recreational drug and I don’t see it as HRM’s role to facilitate it’s use in municipal public spaces. The Province is the one that has the call to make on things like cannabis cafe’s and private apartments. On the medical front, this to me is a clear area of Provincial responsibility since it’s the Province that has allowed landlords to restrict cannabis. I don’t think there has been clarity provided around medical usage. I suspect in most situations there is outdoor space on private property that will fill the need, but, unless the Province clarifies the situation, this will likely eventually be tested in court. For employers, case law already supports a legal duty to accommodate employees with medical needs. HRM’s rules can only apply to municipal property, which in this context, is primarily the streets, sidewalks and parks. On private property, it’s up to the owner.

      • Thanks Sam for your prompt reply. I have read the Calgary bylaw and agree with exempting medicinal use from the bylaw. When you say “on private property it’s up to the owner” does that mean someone can sit on their front porch and smoke cannabis, tobacco or drink alcohol ? This is a very complex issue…. The city has banned urban growing of cannabis because of the smell. The smell of cannabis being smoked can be strong and isn’t necessarily pleasant either, I can see some neighbours complaining. Am I to understand that so long as I’m on my private property (frontyard or backyard) consuming any or all of the three will be within the law ?

        • Yes. If you’re on private property, the bylaw doesn’t apply. HRM can only regulate what happens on municipal land. The Province makes the call about what’s allowed in private space.

  2. Hi Sam, I live in your district and I strongly oppose the new rules. I’m glad you’ve changed your mind on your vote, but please recognize that your regret results from rushing into a decision. Your proposed amendment is premature because no one knows how the community is going to react to legalization. I suggest taking a period of consultation of at least 9 months to a year to observe how the people of Dartmouth and Halifax handle the new federal law, and codify community standards after that period. Please remember that many of your constituents already use cannabis and do so in a way that is respectful to their neighbours

    • Thanks David. My amendment is actually one of the options developed by staff that Council passed on the first time around. It’s not me pulling something out of thin air in a rush 🙂

      The big pressure we face is the looming October legalization deadline. That’s coming whether HRM is ready or not. The experience from Colorado indicates that if we don’t start with a clear set of rules, then it becomes hard to reel things back later. The smell and usage in Colorado has generated a lot of complaints and that’s something HRM has to be mindful of. While I agree most people don’t try to be a nuisance, it only takes a few. I don’t think we’re really prepared to allow for a free-for-all in public spaces. As society adapts to legalization, I suspect some restrictions will be lessened, but this is an evolution. It will take time.

      • I appreciate the response and your point of view. I think where we disagree is that I don’t believe the appropriate community standard for HRM can be determined without knowledge of how the community already uses cannabis and observation of how that will change with the new law. I think it’s good that HRM is not regulating vaporization in public or methods other than smoking, however.

  3. It would be nice to be able to go to the beach or to a park and sit on a bench that’s not littered with cigarette butts. Boardwalks, beaches, parks should all be smoke free. It would be nice if smokers realized that their cigarette butts are litter and they make a nasty, smelly mess. I agree that marijuana should be treated just like alcohol and not smoked in public places.

    • The Nuisance Bylaw doesn’t apply to Parks. The smoking prohibitions on Park spaces are in the Parks Bylaw will still apply even if Council makes changes to the Nuisance Bylaw to back off a sidewalk ban. I agree with limiting smoking in Parks. It’s what most cities have done.

  4. Sam, I don’t live in your district (Cobequid Road – Lwr Sackville), but applaud your change in position. I gave up smoking 11 years ago, for health and financial reasons, but still found the bylaw to be a little heavy handed. I don’t know how my councillor voted, but I hope that there is some sort of re-examination of the bylaw.

  5. While I’m all for banning smoking on sidewalks (I have 2 kids who do not need to be exposed to cigarette smoke!) smoking is currently not allowed in bus shelters…but this is not upheld anywhere. Calls to the bylaw office do little, since by the time an officer gets there, the smoker has boarded a bus.
    Having somewhere to smoke, especially when you have an addiction, is necessary. If they choose an unhealthy habit, it’s not my business to make them stop.
    But let’s face it…people are not going to call bylaw officers because a preppy white kid is smoking a joint. They will call because POC are smoking a joint…and I guarantee that POC will be given the majority of the fines, either straight off, or very soon. Street checks are a clear example of how laws like this are treated.

    So while I can get behind not smoking on sidewalks…it’s already illegal to smoke within 5-10 meters of a doorway or intake vent…which includes most downtown sidewalks…and this isn’t upheld…what makes you think enlarging this law will do any good? I’m glad to see you reevaluating your don’t see that often in politics anymore!

  6. I agree that the new Nuisance By-Law is heavy handed and will be impossible to police. I do think there should be places where tobacco addicts can go to smoke and perhaps get help to quit if they choose to do so, and are able.

  7. As an asthma sufferer, I can’t stand cigarette smoke. It really bothers me and can cause my lungs to seize up, particularly during humid days where pollutants tend to hang around more, instead of quickly dispersing.

    Nonetheless, when I heard about the ban, I didn’t think it would change anything. How many times have I seen people smoking outside of buildings while standing in front of a sign that says “No Smoking Within 10 Metres of Entrance?” I see people smoking a few feet away from bus stop shelters all the time. I see people smoking on the boardwalk all the time even though Waterfront Development prohibits it. Granted, that is private property but my point stands that just because something is prohibited doesn’t mean people won’t do it. This is a highly addictive drug that people will smoke regardless. A bylaw won’t do anything.

    I’m not suggesting a solution here. I’ll admit I can’t think of one. But it would be a dream if all smokers had to go to a single corner of a block to smoke, and they actually obeyed. I could easily avoid them that way and never have to worry if I have my puffer on me. But it could never be upheld in a meaningful way. It’s just frustrating that a single bad habit causes such a waste of money and pain to second handers.

    Sam, I’m in your district and I voted for you. I appreciate your communication and transparency. Keep it up.

  8. This is a bylaw that cannot be enforced. The police have better things to do than chase down people having a smoke. Don’t create a bylaw that cannot be enforced,

  9. Vaping should not be banned anywhere period! I’m so sick of this backwards law enforcing province. I Visit the USA couple times every few years and I notice the forward thinking laws down there. Smoking is not allow anywhere inside malls or bars but vaping is allowed. Apparently some states did actually studies on them and did not just listen to the health companies that were paid by the smoke companies to make them look just as harmfull. Instead of enforcing stupid laws how about enforce the laws that are allready in the drivers hand book but not one single HRM police every enforce in this town. Like turning left over double yellow lines where two lanes are involved. Or turning left at intersection and changing lanes during the turn into the right lane and not the left. Or Keep right except to pass!

  10. I quit smoking cigs 5 years ago and switched to vaping. I hate when I have to vape in the same place smokers are around because 1. I hate the smell of cigs, 2. I’m getting second hand smoke. I have been vaping where there no smoking allowed in many places in canada and the USA and my vape has never ever set off a smoke alarm period! So if you cannot belive that then get a smoke detector yourself and test it. Seriously I cannot belive we live in a age where people belive FACT is fiction and Fiction is FACT!

    • Thomas, the municipality didn’t lump in vaping; the province did in its Smoke Free Places Act. The provincial Act states “Municipalities may pass bylaws that put additional restrictions in place. The stricter rules apply” So municipalities cannot lessen the provincial rules.

  11. Why did vaping get lumped in?

    Vaping is harm reduction. Yes, some people are obnoxious about it, but many people are making the switch to a reduced harm delivery of nicotine. No tar, and not a single carcinogen. Point me to one (credible) study that shows that second hand vape is bad. They don’t exist.

    I live in Lunenburg County, so I’m not one of your constituents, however we all end up in the city from time to time. I will avoid spending a dime in the HRM in the future if I’m oppressed due to my healthier choice. I’m 35. I smoked for 15 years, and now I’ve vaped for 5 years. I haven’t been able to quit nicotine, but at least I’ve got a way to get it that has zero cancer causing agents. Zero. Nicotine by itself is as harmful as a cup of coffee.

    Please consider adding coffee to the bill, as I hear it raises blood pressure, and I hear, and I hear, and I hear. <—- this is not the way to make laws.

    • Amen Nate! Yep not one credible study out there except in the the USA where they found nothing harmfull about second hand vape. Why I love the bars and malls there. Vape away no smoking cigs allowed.

  12. Hello Sam,

    I think you missed the mark on your recent flip-flop. When I heard about the ban I thought about the fact that I no longer had to be bothered by inconsiderate smokers smoking as they wish and leaving the butt for the rest of us to experience. I also paid attention to the positive comments that came from many other jurisdictions. However, the most exciting thought I had was my belief that the ban would further reduce the allure of smoking especially for younger persons.
    I think you have now said to many, who will misinterpret your intent, that smoking is an acceptable activity and that they are being treated wrongfully.

  13. Hi sam,

    Well reasoned decision. Time is passed when we should legislate based on theory and idealism, and then discover the implication and/or costs of enforcement. From previous reading, this whole cannabis issue is going to cost the city significant dollars from a by-law enforcement perspective even without this heavy handed approach.
    I’m hopeful there will be significant agreement around the Council table and collar more logical heads will prevail.
    Thanks for your approach!!

  14. Calabasas, Calif really a place with 25,000 people did this. Imagine if they did that in LA or Houstin or any major city in the USA. You would get shot…
    Halifax has over 300k people

  15. So don’t ban tobacco because renters will possibly have nowhere to smoke legally. Then tell me Sam where will renters be able to legally smoke legal cannabis if not in their apartment?? You councillors should maybe make up your dam minds maybe remember you guys work for us. I’m a medical user I can’t wait to fight this bullshit bylaw in court for medicinal users.
    I will smoke wherever the hell I choose to when the need arises. This city and province are spending millions to make sure cannabis stays illegal instead of making money this will be the only province and backwards city to loose money.

    • Hi Shane. The theory under the current bylaw is that medical users who can’t smoke in their apartments would be able to use designated smoking places like anyone else. Under my proposal, we wouldn’t need designated spaces anymore because tobacco is taken out of the equation. I would be fine with HRM adopting provisions similar to Calgary’s. Calgary banned the public use of cannabis, but provided an exemption for medical users. You can read their bylaw here:

      I think it was a mistake on the Province’s part to not consider medical cannabis when they passed their law allowing landlords to ban it.

      • You say in your article that you can’t drink a beer walking down the road so the same should be with cannabis. You’re putting cannabis in the same category as alcohol now?
        So will the city now also start enforcing no alcohol in public parks too? Any summer day go to a local ball field alcohol being consumed at all ball games. This city is spending to much money on reefer madness. But yes let’s not ticket tobacco smokers, just a bit of info tobacco smoke stinks and is more harmful than cannabis. So now how will the marginalized population smoke cannabis legally outside? This council is unreal get in with improving things in this city that need it like our horrible transit system.

  16. Sam I agree that a full out ban is impossible to enforce and therefore it creates conditions for failure while not really accomplishing much. That said, this is an issue that requires courage. Smoking of all kinds is much more than a nuisance, it is a serious public health issue.
    At present I refuse to take my young daughter to places like Grand Parade for public events because it is impossible to avoid cigarette and marijuana smoke. This is not the public space experience we should be having when smokers comprise less than 18% of the population in NS – even lower across Canada.
    I agree a full out ban is impractical, but we must not back away from this issue. It is the responsibility of public officials to take steps that are in the public interest even if they are opposed strongly by a vocal minority. This is particularly true when the minority view is one that defends negative impacts on public health at large.
    My preference would be that “no smoking” areas are expanded dramatically and are enforced diligently. To this day it is very difficult to enter public spaces without walking through the smoke from someone standing next to a no smoking sign smoking. This is not ok. All parks, beaches, trails, bus stops, or any other place designed for public gathering should be smoke free and this must be enforced. Property owners and businesses should also have the right under the bylaws to designate their space as smoke free including extending the current distance from entrances, and again this needs to be enforced.
    I think you’re right that the full ban is just setting the stage for failure,but this cannot and must not mean we back away from the issue. Over 80% of the population does not smoke and their interests need to be taken very seriously.

    • As one of the over 80% population who does not smoke, I was thrilled to hear that smoking of any and all kinds is to be banned on the sidewalks, boardwalks, etc. While I agree that it will be very difficult to police and there are still going to be many selfish smokers who will not care and continue to smoke anywhere they feel like, I am hoping it changes enough.

      There is nothing worse than trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, going out for a run and having to breath in second hand smoke from people on the sidewalks or standing by the door of a building. Walking our beautiful Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk with the gorgeous view of the water and breathing in second hand smoke or seeing the litter of cigarette butts, disgusting!!
      Just this morning, I had someone walking in front of me, juggling his tray of Tim Horton’s coffee cups and lighting a smoke….extremely rude and inconsiderate to those around him and just plain disgusting!
      I am all for the new rules and hope that the smokers have little to no areas to smoke except for their own homes.

  17. As stated so succinctly by Kevin Trudeau please give priority to protecting the health of the population especially the 80+% who choose not to smoke. Surely they have the right to a smoke-free environment as they go about their day-to-day activities in our city. I too avoid civic events because of second-hand smoke and I was looking forward to participating when I heard the new bylaw would ban smoking in all public areas.

    Please do review the California experience no doubt we can learn a lot from their experience. I understand they successfully implemented a similar bylaw in 2006 and have found that the benefits of smoke free outdoor environments far out weighs the few negatives they have experienced.

    I live in Clayton park. Please share my perspective with the other municipal councillors.

    Thanks for the opportunity to provide my input to this very important health issue.

    Ps please appreciate this is summer and not really the best time to get feedback on such an important health issue.

  18. Apparently this can’t be enforced, or won’t be. Or might be a little. Idk.
    Waste of time really. It’s not a health issue. This is a bad law.
    At least Sam you are attempting to make it a little less silly.

  19. I am a smoker, since they recently banned smoking in my building I smoke outside. However I do not smoke around playgrounds, crowds etc. I do not leave my butts behind, I carry a container to put them in. If I could smoke in my apartment again, I wouldn’t be doing out in public.
    I know you can’t walk down a sidewalk drinking a beer but on the other had you can’t light up a cigarette in a bar. Drinking is just as bad as smoking, yet we drink in front of children all the time. I believe this is a double standard and not really acceptable.

  20. There’s a world of difference between wanting and helping people to quit smoking, and using the power of the state to punish people who smoke. Punishing smokers for their habit because you think it’s in their best interest, is paternalistic and insulting.
    You’re an elected official working for the people, not their father. The people who came up with this law are travelling the path of Dr. Raymond Cocteau in “Demolition Man”. The fines are bad. Smokers are less likely to be able to afford them, and the law will disproportionately punish members of marginalized groups. You’re also correct that smokers are likely to depend on public space to exercise their freedom to smoke. The increased contact between police and civilians is also bad. What will the state do when the fines aren’t paid or can’t be paid? What will officers do when smokers, irritated from being harassed, aren’t totally cooperative with police? What will officers do when smokers think they’re being harassed because they’re Native, black, or poor? Escalations happen. Are you prepared to use the full force of the state to punish those who just want to be left alone to their habit? Please vote to scrap this law, or I will be forced to support someone else who will.

  21. Sam, after reading your comments I fully agree with your take on public smoking. Since HRM announced the enactment of the new smoking by-law, I have been thinking about how this will affect our City as far as tourism is concerned. In addition, I do not believe council realizes the effect this will have not only on the general public but also employers and their employees. What was once 10 minute smoke break will now be longer while those employees search for a designated smoking area especially in the downtown core. Since this issue arose, I have started taking notice of how many HRM employees smoke in public and do see a number of Metro Transit bus drivers smoking on their break. My questions is “will the By Law Enforcement Officers be as eager to ticket one of their own as they would a member of the general public ?” I think not. Instead of enacting this new by-law, I would rather see “our dollars” be put towards more important issues such as the hiring of more police officers as the crime in the City is only increasing.

  22. Sam, I do not live in your district and I have never smoked anything. I do think your are right in your decision, however and respect that you have admitted to changing your mind. I am sure you have given this lots of thought. Even though, I don’t smoke, I have family and friends who do and the argument that I have heard, which makes sense is that they would be lumped in close proximity to people smoking cannabis and they would have to inhale this second hand cannibis when they have no desire to use it themselves. Thank you for being honest about your decision.

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