Canada's most populous province is considering regulations that could pave the way for legal cannabis lounges after legalization.
When Ontario first revealed the provincial law that will govern cannabis use post-legalization, it looked like Ontarians would be restricted to using recreational cannabis within the privacy of their own homes — and nowhere else. As it stands now, the law will ban legal cannabis consumption in public places, workplaces, vehicles, and any other "prescribed place."
That approach drew criticism from advocates who argued it could effectively discriminate against the many Ontarians who don't own their homes. Without venues to use cannabis after legalization, they argued, cannabis users whose landlords and condo boards don't allow consumption — not to mention those without any homes at all — would have no choice but to break the law.
"People appreciate the fact that we're there because people aren't sitting in the park smoking doobies around little kids, they're not sitting in their cars, they're not in the alleyways."
Last last week, though, Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General announced it is "seeking early feedback on prospective proposals to permit licensed and regulated cannabis consumption lounges/venues and/or designated outdoor smoking and vaping areas for cannabis for multi-unit dwellings." The provincial legal authority is also proposing regulations that could allow the use of recreational cannabis in certain hotel rooms where smoking is permitted.
Ontario's willingness to consider cannabis lounges is music to the ears of Abi Roach, the owner of the Hotbox Cafe in Toronto's downtown Kensington Market neighbourhood and a long-time advocate for cannabis consumption spaces. Roach's cafe has operated as a cannabis lounge since 2003, allowing users to bring their own cannabis for smoking on an outdoor patio, or vaporizing at tables indoors.
The Hotbox Cafe, Roach says, serves an important role in a neighbourhood that has long been popular among cannabis users.
"We've become an important part of our community, and people appreciate the fact that we're there because people aren't sitting in the park smoking doobies around little kids, they're not sitting in their cars, they're not in the alleyways."Advertisement
Legal cannabis lounges, argues Roach, wouldn't just be good for cannabis users — she believes they would be especially beneficial for people who don't use cannabis and don't want anything to do with it.
"If you live in a condominium, for example, and your neighbour is a cannabis consumer and you have two kids, and you don't want them smelling cannabis, and it comes in through the vents. Where else is this person supposed to go to enjoy their legal substance? They don't have anywhere else to go."
Jurisdictions with legal cannabis that haven't allowed legal consumption spaces, points out Roach, have faced an increase in cannabis users with no place to go. She cites the example of Denver, Colorado, where nuisance tickets for public cannabis consumption spiked dramatically immediately after legalization. (Denver has since moved towards allowing "social marijuana use" venues.)
Cannabis business lawyer Trina Fraser agrees with Roach's assertion that cannabis consumption venues could be good news for those who dislike cannabis.
"I don't know why anybody would be offended by the notion of creating these spaces, if they are offended by the concept of cannabis use, because it will actually remove it from places where they would be exposed to it," said Fraser, a partner at Brazeau Seller Law in Ottawa.
Additionally, said Fraser, creating legal establishments for cannabis use could help municipal governments save taxpayer money that would otherwise be spent cracking down on public consumption.
Legalizing cannabis consumption venues in Ontario is far from being a done deal. Fraser notes that any such move would require the provincial government to go back and amend its Cannabis Act, which has already been passed but has not yet come into force.
Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador all intend to restrict legal, recreational cannabis consumption to private homes, said Fraser, "but in B.C. we don't know yet... even the city of Victoria has made submissions to the province of B.C. advocating for consumption lounges."
"In Alberta, we're still waiting to see what that whole framework's going to flush out to look like, but we know the city of Edmonton has already passed a zoning bylaw amendment to permit cannabis lounges as a category of permitted usage," she said.
At this point, Fraser added, it's "still early to know if (legal cannabis consumption spaces will) be part of phase one of legalization anywhere. I'd say if there's a chance it's going to be anywhere, it would probably be B.C. or Alberta."