What’s the difference between smoking and drinking in public?

If public cannabis consumption becomes legal in YEG, why not public drinking?

Wouldn’t it be so rewarding to be able to crack open a beer in quad after the last final of your undergrad? Suns out (60% likely), a future on the horizon (??% likely), a beer in your hand (100% likely, but only if you want to and at your own pace). When I finish my undergrad, I solemnly vow that I will do this. I don’t give a single FUCK if it’s illegal to drink alcohol in public.

But let’s rewind. How and why is the public consumption of alcohol illegal? The topic has been percolating recently as municipal cannabis legislation is being firmed up around the province. The City of Edmonton has been mulling over some of the most liberal cannabis consumption regulation, flip-flopping positions repeatedly. The probable approach (allowing cannabis to be smoked in some public spaces) is still laxer than places like Calgary and Fort McMurray, where public consumption is almost completely banned.

But what about alcohol? We know a lot more about alcohol’s impacts on the body. There’s no second-hand smoke. A prohibition of public alcohol consumption is a lot harder to enforce than cannabis. How do I really know what’s in your opaque Swell water bottle, Stacy, you drunk fuck?

Basically, it’s because the government doesn’t want us to drink in public. The Government of Alberta believes that society as a whole finds the use of alcohol in public undesirable, and legislates accordingly. Municipalities (or universities) can double down on drinking through regulating behaviour using nuisance and public place bylaws. Sorry, Stacey, but that’s just the way it is right now. 

Perusing through Alberta’s liquor legislation clarifies this. The most recent overhaul of the legislation occurred with the 1996 Liquor and Gaming Act, which among other things privatized liquor sales. With a privatized market, Albertans can more easily access liquor stores because they are more proliferous and can be open longer compared to provinces with government-controlled stores.

But looking at the finer details, the Gaming and Liquor Act is pretty concrete and prescriptive with regards to where alcohol can be consumed. Your own residence and property — yes. Public places — no. A bar or restaurant — yes. Temporary residences (like a campground) or religious ceremonies — sort of.

In our student context, the University of Alberta spells out further regulations in its Code of Student Conduct and Residence House Rules, stating that the consumption of alcohol is only allowed in licensed premises (like Dewey’s, RATT, or the Faculty Club) or in private dorms. It appears that Stacy and I will be pretty limited with where we can drink.

The thing to take note of is that drinking in public is a lot different than in a bar or at a party. When someone drinks in public, oftentimes they’re sharing a bottle of wine at the park. They aren’t doing four jägerbombs like Stacy did at the Buck this weekend. Consumption of alcohol in public can be a privilege if permitted by the government, and behaviour getting out of hand can be regulated by bylaws. They trust everyday Quebecers and Germans, so why not Albertans?

And one more thing to point out: the province does allow a person to consume liquor with food in a public park if the area is designated by the owner for this activity. So maybe drinking a beer in Quad or at Hawrelak isn’t far off. In the interim, Stacy and I are going to continue secretly drinking in public. See you around, and don’t you dare ask what’s in our Swell water bottles.

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