Major social reforms inevitably hit unforeseen obstacles. Here's yet one more that looms for the Trudeau government's plan to legalize cannabis.
Several municipal governments in Quebec have served notice in recent weeks that, when pot becomes legal this summer, they will enforce strict bylaws that could effectively forbid its consumption by recreational users.
Under Quebec's proposed pot law, municipal councils will have the right to ban the smoking of pot in all public places – well beyond the usual restrictions on tobacco and alcohol. Some towns seem intent on passing bylaws so strict that the only legal place to smoke weed would be at home.
At the same time, landlord associations in Quebec are actively advising members to expand the scope of non-smoking clauses in leases to include cannabis.
Given that smoking is by far the most common way to enjoy pot, the landlords' actions, combined with new bylaws, could mean that some recreational pot users in Quebec will not be allowed to smoke up inside or outside their homes. (Medicinal users can smoke wherever they want.)
The landlords' concerns shouldn't be dismissed as reactionary or ill-informed. They could well find themselves deluged by complaints from tenants who don't like the distinctive smell of pot smoke coming from neighbouring units, and who don't want to risk the possibility of the smoke getting into their lungs or those of their children.
It's important to remember here that, while cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Canada, only about one in five Canadians currently uses it in a given year, based on various estimates and statistics. That number could grow after legalization, but pot users are likely to remain a minority of the population.
Landlords in other provinces could consequently also face a backlash from the majority of their tenants. They may ban cannabis from their buildings to appease tenants, or as a way of attracting new ones. As in Quebec, this will clash with the implicit notion that Canadians should be able to enjoy legal marijuana in the privacy of their homes.
Fully a third of Canadians are renters. Their right to keep pets and to smoke tobacco in their homes varies from province to province, from landlord to landlord, and even from unit to unit in some buildings. For the most part, they are able to find a place to live in as they choose.
With luck, the cannabis issue will settle itself in a similar way, with some landlords allowing its use and others not, but with enough rental stock available for recreational pot smokers to be able to enjoy their new freedoms.
But it will be unfair if, as may happen in Quebec, provincial law, town bylaws and landlords somehow combine to effectively ban the reasonable use of cannabis, in any location, for people who happen to be renters.
Given that other provinces are also planning to grant municipalities wide latitude to regulate where pot can be used, this could prove to be a major issue after legalization. Where there's smoke, there's fire.