BANFF – The public consumption of pot is now legal throughout Banff National Park so long as it’s consumed outside of the Banff townsite.
Parks Canada released the new rules earlier this week just in time for legalization of recreational cannabis across the country.
It means people can now smoke or vape weed in public areas within the hamlet of Lake Louise, all day-use areas, including tourist hotspots like Moraine Lake and Johnston Canyon, as well as front country and backcountry trails.
In Parks Canada campgrounds, cannabis consumption will be limited to the visitor’s campsite and banned in campground common areas such as playgrounds, kitchen shelters, washrooms, trails and roads.
Parks Canada officials say this is a similar approach the federal agency follows for other regulated substances in campgrounds, noting that like alcohol, recreational cannabis will be banned on summer long weekends from Victoria Day through to Labour Day.
“As with alcohol, from time to time Parks Canada may implement specific prohibitions on consumption in specific campgrounds or at specific times of year as operational requirements arise or in an effort to ensure that all visitors enjoy their stay,” said Marie-Hélène Brisson, Parks Canada’s media services manager.
Parks Canada’s direction on cannabis in Banff is the same as Alberta provincial regulations, which allow for cannabis consumption in parks and protected areas such as neighbouring Kananaskis Country.
That said, concerns have been raised that Parks Canada’s cannabis rules will lead to confusion for visitors given that Banff town council decided to take a public health approach and ban public pot use inside the townsite, restricting its use to private residences and properties only.
However, Parks Canada officials say their locations within the Banff townsite such as the administration grounds, Banff Park Museum, information centre and downtown Banff Avenue park are subject to the municipal ban on public cannabis consumption.
“It would be the same as within the Town of Banff, so smoking or vaping would be prohibited there and the Town of Banff would enforce that,” said Greg Danchuk, visitor services manager for Banff National Park.
“The rest of the park, outside of the Town of Banff, we’re taking an approach that’s consistent with the province of Alberta.”
With different rules for inside and outside the town boundaries, Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said it’s important for anyone wanting to smoke or vape cannabis to get educated.
“I think it’s going to require people to educate themselves thoroughly as to what the rules are where they are,” she said.
Tourism officials in Banff agreed.
“The difference in approach highlights the need for early, and clear communications to residents, staff and visitors,” said Darren Reeder, the executive director of Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association (BLLHA).
Park wardens will monitor areas, including those close to the Banff townsite such as Vermilion Lakes and Cascade Ponds, where there’s potential for parties given pot is banned inside town boundaries.
“We will monitor as we have been for illegal camping and illegal drinking. We’ll continue to do this and monitor that to see if there are increased problems and if they are related to cannabis,” he said.
“We don’t believe it will be any more different than perhaps it has been in the past. If behaviour is inappropriate, it’s actioned by law enforcement.”
The rules in national parks vary in different provinces and territories. However, the same direction in Banff National Park applies to Yoho and Kootenay.
Cannabis consumption is also allowed inside the townsite of Field.
Parks Canada’s direction on cannabis is not written in stone.
Officials say the will actively monitor and evaluate the effects of legalization.
“Our current approach will be revisited and may be adjusted as issues arise and/or as new information becomes available,” said Brisson.