As cannabis legalization is a mere 16 days away, Oct. 1 also brings new rules for smoking (any substance) in Victoria’s public spaces.
The Clean Air Bylaw in the Capital Regional District was amended in April to including vaping and smoking marijuana on the same level as smoking tobacco in public spaces. In Victoria, people will not be able to smoke or vape tobacco, vape juice or marijuana in public areas like parks, beaches and playgrounds or within seven metres of doorways, windows, bus stops or air intakes. It includes outside patios where drinks and food are served.
In September, CRD began issuing warning tickets for the new, more general bylaw. Now, $100 fines will follow as of Oct. 1.
Dr. Richard Stanwick, who works with Island Health, said, “The intent of the bylaw is to provide clean air to the general public. People say this is restricting the rights of other people. Well, the right actually is to clean air… We’re not stopping you from engaging in it, what we’re doing is specifying where it can’t be done.
“Adults have the right to make their own decisions. What we really want to make sure is the public makes an informed decision,” Stanwick said.
There are several health concerns behind the bylaw. Because cannabis isn’t a legal substance yet, Stanwick said there isn’t much data available on the benefits and risks of marijuana smoke. What they do know is, like alcohol, there is a psychoactive effect from ingesting (or inhaling) marijuana. Cannabis smoke can also restrict airways and blood vessels. Then there are the cancer-causing agents in the smoke, in which Stanwick said a California study found 33 substances classified as carcinogens.
“The other piece of concern is the fine particles that are generated by the smoking of marijuana that can find their way deep into the lung,” Stanwick said. He added the habit of inhaling deeply and holding in breath could draw the particles deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream, which could react with the lining of blood vessels. “There’s a good likelihood you’re going to see an increase in heart attacks and strokes as a result of this smoking. Is it as bad as tobacco smoke in terms of cancer-causing agents? No. Is it harmless? Absolutely not,” he said.
The benefit of legalization, Stanwick said, is there will be more studies on the effects of smoking cannabis. People will also be able to know without a doubt what exactly they’re smoking, with less likelihood of inhaling pesticides, herbicides or other toxins once the substance is federally regulated.
Even vapes, which Stanwick stressed are not federally regulated, are not harmless.
“There are still chemicals in the ones supposedly lacking nicotine that still can be harmful,” he said. “Particularly since these devices burn hotter, they can actually produce higher levels of heavy metals, which again you don’t want to breathe in, than cigarettes.”
Stanwick said as more people may start smoking in public after Oct. 17, many may not know the bylaws already in place. Good signage in such public areas, he said, will be critical. Bylaw officers will start by trying to educate the smoker on the new restrictions, and only fine someone if they continue to defy the rules.