Smoking in Fort Smith will be OK on sidewalks, trails, and behind town buildings, but not in parks and playgrounds, councillors are set to confirm.

Town councillors are expected to pass a new smoking and cannabis use bylaw before their term is up this fall.

The new bylaw will replace the previous smoking bylaw, which came into effect in 2003 and still stipulates such things as: “The proprietor of a restaurant or licensed dining room may designate an … area of the facility as a smoking area.”

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On Monday night council passed the first reading of the cannabis bylaw, which senior administrative officer Keith Morrison says is based on Yellowknife’s current bylaw.

Pending revisions include where smoking is allowed, how to accommodate town staff who smoke, and a graduated fine system.

Councillors are aiming for the bylaw to pass second and third reading before a new council is sworn in after the October 15 election.

‘Uncertain around cannabis’

In the new bylaw, smoking is defined as the “means to inhale, exhale, burn, or have control over a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, hooka pipe, or other lighted smoking implement designated to burn or heat tobacco or any other weed substance for the purpose of inhaling or tasting of its emissions.”

That means the same rules will apply to both cigarettes and cannabis.

In the first draft, smoking would not have been allowed on any town property – not on sidewalks or roads, nor behind town buildings during smoke breaks.

After much discussion regarding enforcement and how to ensure that use does not occur in sight of children, council agreed it would like to see roads, trails, and sidewalks removed from the list of town properties where smoking is prohibited.

Morrison was also directed to explore council’s ability to set a restricted radius around education buildings and parks – so, for example, residents would not be able to smoke on the sidewalk in front of the elementary school.

Parks, playgrounds, and other town buildings and grounds will still be included as prohibited areas under the bylaw.

“I think society as a whole struggles with [regulating cannabis],” said Deputy Mayor Kevin Smith during the discussion. “We have a common understanding of how alcohol is consumed in public and not in public. We’re very uncertain around all of the implications of cannabis.

“I want to see a bylaw that is clear for the public to understand and simple for our bylaw officer to enforce in a way that makes sense to people.”

Council also decided it would continue to allow smoking behind town buildings. Town policy will dictate that, like alcohol, cannabis is not permitted at work.

Finally, council directed Morrison to write in a graduated fine system. Currently, the bylaw states anyone found guilty under the bylaw will be fined $500.