An Open Letter To Ottawa City Council, RE: Proposed Ban On Smoking In Parks

After hearing about all of this: Limits on outdoor smoking draw approval

I sent the following letter to all of these people and the Mayor:

An Open Letter To Ottawa City Council, RE: Proposed Ban On Smoking In Parks

Patios, fine, but I will not obey this proposed park smoking ban. Nor, I suspect, is it even legal to implement said law, as it infringes on my medical rights. I expect that you would have to put in a clause that “federally licensed medical marijuana users are exempt” from said law to make it valid. Check with your lawyers, because I am NOT letting this issue pass without a fight.

This is the Mernagh ruling by Justice Taliano. It points out in detail how these Medical Marijuana permits from Health Canada negatively impact people:

I know many of you may have trouble “believing” certain things, but the FACT of the matter is…. science claiming that first and second hand marijuana smoke is “more dangerous” than tobacco smoke has been repeatedly and soundly debunked. Recent science out of Spain, Israel, Germany, and even the US, shows that marijuana has powerful cancer-FIGHTING properties.

One study showed that chronic daily users have lower rates of certain kinds of cancers as people who smoked nothing at all! In fact, the US even holds a patent on the cancer-fighting properties of cannabis:

So, the notion that you are obliged to “protect” the public – even children – from my second hand marijuana smoke is preposterous. Equally as preposterous as one of my friend’s suggestions, that I “should demand money from passing strangers for giving them free medicine!” The ragweed in this town is far more threatening to public health than pot smoking, yet I see almost no effort to remove that pestilence, even from city property.

Further, any law that tells my wife and I that we cannot use our medicine where and when we need to, is likely unconstitutional, as it discriminates against us before the fact. If this law passes, it basically means my wife and I cannot even enter a city park. We like the parks, because there is less-to-no traffic.

And yes, I actually DO need to smoke pot every 30-60 minutes or so to stay upright, and to keep my food down, and to keep me calm enough to actually enjoy/manage being out in public. As it is, I bite my lip and suffer the symptoms for longer than most people would, all in an effort to seek out discreet and/or courteous places to medicate. I have chosen, in the past, to suffer significantly in order to offer my community more courtesy than I have received. I have crossed the street to avoid mothers with their prams. I have avoided nice shady benches on hot days because someone else was there first and I don’t want to be “the rude pot smoker”.

But THIS is where I draw the line. I am sick and tired of being treated like a second class citizen, and will not stand for this new restriction to my freedoms. I simply cannot bring myself to comply with such a law, as it goes against my core beliefs.

I already constantly worry about cops. I am yet to have an issue with one, luckily, but I will not be treated like a “drug user” or a child by some cop who doesn’t understand or “approve” of my medicine or place of medicating. More than one licensed friend of mine has had cops give them a hard time even after their permits were shown.

I have been TRYING to meet with members of council and/or the police to try and prevent a public episode before it occurs, but no one wants to even talk about this issue because they do not want to be forced to admit or deny anything.

Some history: In 2001, I had a back spasm that put me in bed for months. That resulted in me being tethered to a mechanical chair for 5.5 years. I was told it was likely permanent. In fact, I was told in no uncertain terms that I had just better get used to being in a chair.

Since then, I cured my sleep apnea, co-authored and co-illustrated a children’s book, I got out of the wheelchair, I am a 24/7 caregiver to my sick wife, I have become one of the most-published letter writers in Canadian history (over 815 in 8 years), I have all-but-cured my erectile dysfunction, and, at 42, I am more libidinous than most men half my age. All with pot, and clean diet.

So no – I will NOT be silent. I will NOT act as if I am ashamed. I will NOT “pretend” that my pot use is bad, or that it sends “the wrong message” to kids. Not in front of cops, kids, babies, old people, you, or the public. No way, no how. I am a pot user, and I am damn proud of it.

Think of it this way: would we ask a gay couple to not hold hands in the park because it might send the wrong message to kids? Of course not. But most people would come storming over to me and my wife, demanding that we “put that joint out immediately!”, even if the smell was going the other way.

Funny, isn’t it…. whenever someone credits a new pill, procedure, or “prayer” for their seemingly “miraculous” recovery, they get adulations from the public. When I do all of these things – and credit “science” – I get called faker, liar, dreamer, stoner, malingerer, addict, druggie, mental case, criminal, and charlatan. I have suffered humiliation at the hands of your bus drivers, your citizens, security guards, internet trolls too cowardly to use their real names, and even one of your former City Councillors, Gord Hunter. Remember the big laugh everyone had when Alex Munter joked about it at Gord’s big going away party? Now you want to pass a new law that systematically discriminates against me and my wife.

Yes, I can eat my pot, and do. And vaporize it. I need to smoke as well, especially in public, as smoking offers a very fast and effective, and easily modulated, dose. I use 9 grams (6 eaten) a day and it is only doing about half what I need it to do. My dose is soon to increase. That means I will be out trying to get even more exercise, which means more smoking in public.

And no, I cannot simply “not smoke”. As it is, I despise smoking, but is is necessary in order to manage my symptoms. In all honesty, if I were to use my medicine “as needed”, like I am supposed to, I would have a lit joint in my hand at all times.

If my wife feels a seizure coming on, she is going to smoke a joint. Simple as that. Bus platform, park, you name it – her symptoms make a demand, and it gets MET! Wouldn’t you? If your loved one was going into shock or having severe pain, would you rush them home, or medicate them right there in the food court?

Asthma – same thing. If my wife has an asthma attack (yes, pot alleviates asthma faster than a “puffer”, and the science supports that), is she supposed to simply gasp and crawl to the edge of the park, just to medicate? Or should I carry her?

I know, you’re right; pot stinks, and people should not be exposed to smells they don’t want to be exposed to. I agree wholeheartely. But my need to access my legally prescribed medication trumps their “right” to “dislike” a certain smell, or “disapprove” of a certain actions or behaviors.

Do you have any IDEA how humiliating and infuriating it is to watch someone who is in visibly worse health than I am, try to tell me how my pot use is “killing brain cells” and giving me cancer and making me mentally ill? I expect not. Imagine being scolded and made-fun-of for getting out of a WHEELCHAIR, and you get the idea how I feel.

Everywhere I go in this city, I am inundated by the smell of cars, and tobacco, and weird food, and dog poo, and perfume, and B.O., and fart, and…. whatever that weird smell coming out of the grates is. So if me smoking a joint is such a big deal, if my second hand pot smoke presents a clear and present danger to the people of this city, then I scientific demand proof. Because I have science to back my claims that pot smoke is beneficial.

Further, no one obeys the outdoor smoking laws that are in place now! Is anyone going to enforce these new laws? Likely not. As we have all seen, tobacco smokers often smoke directly under no smoking signs, directly in door ways, and on bus platforms. Not only do they brazenly break the rules, they are obnoxious and rude if you dare mention it to them.

Two OC Transpo security guards told me that guards never hand out fines on the bus platforms because the fine money goes to the province, but their pay comes out of the city coffers. So there is literally NO impetus for them to fine people. The public knows this, and smoke accordingly. So while my wife and I would likely be arrested for smoking our LEGAL medicine on a bus platform, Tobacco Joe – who should be facing a $5000 fine if these signs meant a damn thing – will get yet another “warning”.

So I can expect that in parks now, too? Warnings for the people who smoke tobacco, fines and charges for me and my wife? I expect so.

What a sick joke. People expose me to a class-one carcinogen on an almost daily basis, and if I expose them to my cancer-fighting medicine, I get into more trouble than they do! What an absurd town!

I told the city many times: put plain clothes officers on the platforms! They walk up, say “Put that out.” The smoker invariably says something offensive. Our guy whips out a badge, and bam – $500 fine. Or $5000. Good luck fighting that ticket in court, with 4 signs around you and cameras catching the whole thing. That guy could hand out 30 big fines in one morning – just at Billings Bridge.

When word spreads on the media that Ottawa is raking in buckets of cash fining tobacco smokers in a harsh way, the smoking will diminish. But I suppose you are worried about people fighting the charges in court… or can’t afford to hire enough security guards….. or you know deep down it is a non-issue…. so you let it slide.

All of you are obliged to base your laws on fact and science, not hyperbole, “commonly-held beliefs”, or even the “public opinion”. The public is far too uninformed about medical marijuana to form a sensible opinion about it, so it would be unethical to let “the public” decide whether or not I should have a “right” to use my legally-prescribed medicine in parks. Just as it would be unethical to let the public decide whether or not gays can hold hands in public.

The Medical Marijuana regulations – the ones that have been struck down as unconstitutional in whole or in part no less than seven times – state that we are supposed to abide by tobacco smoking laws. But if the laws keep taking away more and more places where I am allowed to use my medicine, then my rights are being infringed upon.

I await your response.

Russell Barth
Educators For Sensible Drug Policy
Federally Licensed Medical Marijuana User

About russellbarth

Trying to end marijuana prohibition, and educate people about marijuana, diet, prohibition, and sustainable living.
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4 Responses to An Open Letter To Ottawa City Council, RE: Proposed Ban On Smoking In Parks

  1. James O'Grady says:

    Hi Russell,

    I agree with you. This proposed by-law goes too far. Even for people who smoke tabacco, it’s not reasonable to suggest that smokers can’t smoke anywhere in public. Certainly, there was a need to remove smoking from inside workplaces but this by-law goes too far in the opposite direction.
    Its almost like telling people they can no longer drink alcohol… Prohibition type laws don’t work and only cause unnecessary social divisions in our society.

    By the way, I am working on releasing a website soon that will allow people to post letters to the Internet they have written to organizations, as you have with this letter. While I know you have already posted this to your blog, I’d like to invite you to post your letter to my site when it launches in 3-4 weeks. In Ottawa it will be called Your letter is the type of letter I’d like to see people post… The site is for people who are being intentionally ignored or edited out of the mainstream media and discussion of issues.

    Good luck with your effort to defend your rights!

    James O’Grady

  2. russellbarth says:

    Dear Mr. Barth,

    Thank you for your recent correspondence with respect to City of Ottawa smoking bylaws. I appreciate your input.

    Ottawa has been a leader in controlling smoking in public places and, as you may know, August 1st marked the tenth anniversary of the implementation of our Smoke-free Bylaws. Recently there has been discussion of the extension of the bylaws to include other public places, such as patios, parks and beaches. I look forward to City Council having an opportunity to deal with this matter in the near future. You can be assured that any decisions taken by Council will be based first and foremost upon the most up to date scientific information available.

    In that regard, earlier this year we established our new Board of Health and we will await the specific recommendations that the Chair, Councillor Diane Holmes, will develop in concert with Ottawa Public and Health and our Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Isra Levy. I understand that Dr. Levy and his team have already commenced the work necessary to provide such advice.

    Thank you again for your input and by copy of this note will ensure that your information is passed along to Public Health.


    Jim Watson
    City of Ottawa

  3. David says:

    Too many bylaws! If this goes into effect do they actually expect police to enforce it? Instead they’ll be charging people they don’t like the look of.

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