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Cannabis When pot is legal, will I have the right to smoke a joint in my backyard – even if it bothers the neighbours?

Part of Cannabis and consumers

From the archives: This article was originally published June 8, 2017

The question

I am a long-time closeted cannabis user and I am looking forward to the legalization of pot next summer. But until then, my question has to do with my rights as a home owner and a pot smoker versus the rights of my neighbour to not smell said marijuana. Now, I don't spend the whole day out there smoking, just one joint here or there. Yesterday afternoon, they smelled my J and proceeded to speak loudly to each other within earshot of me as to how rude this is. Is it rude Dave? Am I allowed to indulge in a smoke in my own yard? Legalization is going to change how much smoke you smell walking down the street, I think it's already changed. Whether we want it or not it's coming … stinky smoke and all. Who's got the right though?

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The answer

Hoo boy. Speaking of smells, I can already detect the stench of my own hypocrisy for what I am about to say in this column. Do what I say, not as I do, people:

I discovered weed in high school. I liked it. Then, in university, I was a free-wheeling, Frisbee-playing guy whose proud boast was he was "almost always high."

But it has come to pass I am now anti-marijuana. Why? A number of factors. For one thing, the THC levels of pot now are at ridiculous, powerful levels.

And I got to reading. It may mess up your brain's development, if you're young. It also undermines ambition, motivation and so on.

I had a friend who smoked pot and it was impossible not to observe: When he sparked up, he "checked out."

His problems no longer seemed like problems to him. "Hey, everything's cool."

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But the last thing you should do with problems is ignore them and pretend they're not problems.

If I may quote the (almost) 3,000-year-old wisdom of Lao Tzu: "The sage, because he confronts all his problems, never has any."

Call it the Damage-Control motto.

But people who smoke weed "check out" and pretend their problems aren't problems. And when you pretend your problems aren't problems, they get bigger. Enough lecturing about that – except to say, as an advice columnist (I know you weren't asking this) but a) I don't think you should smoke it, b) I don't think it should be legalized.

Moving on: I don't see how you are impinging on the rights of your neighbour with your pot smells. Once, a long time ago, I got a question about a neighbour who took nude soaks in his hot tubs, giving my question-writer and his friends and family an eyeful.

That … is an impingement. But weed – I will say, if there are children in the vicinity (which you don't mention), you might want to ask yourself if you might not be setting a bad example.

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But if it's only adults? I suppose they can catch a whiff of your "J" and decide for themselves if it's so rude. How is it intruding on their rights, really?

However, having said all that, if it's clear it's bothering your neighbours, why bother with bothering them?

Here at Damage Control Central, we get an overwhelming amount of neighbour-related questions – because one is stuck with one's neighbours and neighbours can be a) delightful, b) turn one's life into a living hell. Which would you prefer?

Lately, we've been toying with the idea of selling our house and I feel as if it's almost something we should put in the brochure: We have nice neighbours and get along with them well. That's all part of the great life we shall be selling you when we sell our home.

Bottom line: I wouldn't be too aggressive about your "rights" when it comes to the wafting of reefer fumes over your fence into your neighbours' nostrils.

Of course, they are not really harmed by the skunky emanations of your herbaceous indulgences. It's not as if you're playing Black Sabbath at full volume while grilling kielbasa on your barbecue as a way to control your "munchies" – though if you are, that's obviously your right too.

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But why not try to appease your neighbours? Get along with them? Turn down the Sabbath, offer them some grilled kielbasa (with perhaps a slather of Grey Poupon if they are hoity-toitily inclined) and try to get along?

Gestures are important. We have a neighbour who borrows our car (which is more like a truck, which is why she seems to require it for her business, which has something to do with furniture), then leaves us not one, but two bottles of wine.

We appreciate it! It makes the transaction smoother. Point is: Don't insist on rights. Make gestures to your neighbours and life will go much smoother.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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