Burning pot questions remain in Ottawa a few weeks before legalization

Cannabis questions were top of mind at the Ottawa Board of Health meeting Monday with the legalization of pot now less than a month away. 

Board members raised questions about where pot could be consumed starting Oct. 17 — including a public delegate who asked about curbing the effects of second-hand cannabis smoke in condos and apartments

Coun. Catherine McKenney said this is a concern for her, given that nearly half of the people who live downtown reside in multi-unit buildings.

"Now that we're faced with cannabis, people are really alarmed by that. They are alarmed by the fact that their neighbour may be able to smoke in their unit," she said.

The city and Ottawa Public Health (OPH) can't regulate private residences, though they are encouraging landlords and condo boards to act.

"What we're doing is trying to have conversations with landlords and the City of Ottawa and really promoting smoke-free and vape-free policies within those dwellings," said Gillian Connelly, a manager at the health authority.

Connelly said OPH did recommend the Ontario government regulate the smoking and vaping of cannabis in common areas of multi-unit homes, but provincial rules haven't been released yet.

The board directed city staff to report on how many condos and apartments are covered by smoke-free policies so far.

Dr. Vera Etches, the city's medical officer of health, said there has been no movement from the province about allowing cannabis lounges or other public smoking establishments.

Youth access a concern

Connelly said the health authority wants to be involved in the implementation of private cannabis retail in Ontario, which the PC government announced it will pursue later next year.

"One of the things that we're really looking to do is work with our city and provincial partners to ensure that there are policies to reduce youth access to cannabis," she said. 

Connelly said OPH has made discouraging youth from using cannabis and minimizing the risks they take while using it the key focus of their awareness campaign.

It included pamphlets for first-year university students, social media, parent education sessions and posters in bars and restaurants.

The English and French campaign, called Blunt Facts, will be moving to OC Transpo over the next month. 

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

The campaign touches on facts about cannabis-impaired driving, the respiratory effects of smoking cannabis, and having conversations with young people about consumption.

"One of the biggest risks is anyone who is using under the age of 25, there are harms associated with cannabis use at that age as a result of the brain still developing," Connelly said. 

"So we're encouraging anyone who is under the age of 25, if they're not using now, to not start."