Cannabis consumption lounges: Is it time for a policy change?

Cannabis consumption can be a social activity, but regulations largely restrict use to private residences in certain areas of Canada.

Consumption laws were adopted with combustion in mind, but will be outdated when cannabis beverages and edibles hit the shelves later this year or early 2020.

Total sales from recreational cannabis have already passed $450 million, and some players believe that could be greatly amplified by the introduction of cannabis consumption spaces.

Some say B.C is perfectly placed to take advantage of this opportunity, as the UN revealed more people in the province consume cannabis than anywhere else in Canada.

Kiaro, a Vancouver-based cannabis retailer, is one company advocating for cannabis edible and beverage consumption lounges.

“These spaces are more than just places to get high in,” said Andrew Gordon, Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for Kiaro. “They are places to get educated and informed and empowered, and see the community around you.”

“The aims and aspirations of cannabis legalization were around improving public health and safety, around keeping this out of the hands of young people and eroding the illicit market out of the equation,” Gordon told BotaniQ Magazine. “Consumption lounges, when you look at the entire lifestyle integration experience for cannabis legalization, a big part of that has to do with the consumption of the product and the support and education and service around that.”

Gordon said educating consumers on consumable cannabis products is “vital right now.”

“This first three to five years of cannabis legalization, we’re in a very fragile time where we’re building acceptance and maintaining social license. If we are not sensitive to that and just blow through and create a transactional exchange with our stakeholders, we are going to miss the chance to bring them on board to build the level of support we need to evolve the industry further as we progress,” he remarked. 

Gordon said much more consensus around the benign and beneficial nature of cannabis is needed.

“The regulations are super restrictive and draconian in a lot of ways, almost unnecessarily so when you compare it to liquor or tobacco, which statistically kills a lot more people. So from that standpoint, these spaces are going to help educate and inform and empower,” he mused.  “And we need to build consensus and bring people together in these spaces, because they can go out and vote for change. Looking at the current landscape here, while Canada is aiming to reduce the consumption and views of young people… these spaces could be nice protective realms to cultivate the right type of audience for regulators. I think provinces and municipalities have a lot to gain in terms of tax revenue, property development, in terms of employment and economic diversification. That is all vital.”

Gordon said while he’s observed a “diffusion of responsibility” by some governments, other jurisdictions have shown an appetite for such spaces. 

“I’ve been in at the municipal provincial level have a lot of times pointed fingers at federal regulations but actually they do not impact it as much as they think,” he explained. “They are just unfamiliar and uncomfortable at times with the nebulous nature of some of those regulations and when it comes to executing it on the ground at the provincial and municipal level. I think there’s more the federal government can do to steward the understanding for those stakeholders that this power actually does rest with them and they can make that economic or social or political decision in their own purview.”

Gordon has seen a mix of interpretation across the country. 

“B.C. is a little bit more fluid than say, Saskatchewan where you are really restricted as a cannabis consumer to your own private home and you really have to own that to have full prerogative as to whether or not you can do that,” he said. “But in B.C. where we do the ban in provincial parks, near schools, in vehicles, on boats, bus stops, inside buildings obviously, and anywhere within six metres of a doorway or a window or air intake, but beyond that, there is still a lot of liberty and freedom to consume cannabis and combust cannabis in a way that you feel good about.”

Gordon hopes to see more leadership on the matter of cannabis consumption lounges at the municipal and provincial levels.

“I am encouraged at the municipal level because they do see the business and economic opportunity, and they are impacted the most in terms of the social atmosphere of legalization,” he said. “If you have safe sites that are out of the eyes of young people, that are providing a safe, health-focused environment and giving people positive exchange with the experience, that’s going to bode well in the community at the municipal level for the legitimization of legalization.”

Gordon said he is pleased to see the City of Victoria has made a submission to the province advocating for consumption lounges. 

“The municipalities and the cities here that have the most experience with cannabis seem to be the most proactive about it,” he noted. “But we’re also seeing in centres like Alberta right now, which is arguably the cannabis capital of Canada in terms of the legalized retail market, they’re looking at hybrid solutions with the hospitality industry – consumption on patios and from what I understand the city is actually looking at a large scale thousand-square-foot cannabis lounge. Alberta has embraced this tremendously well. They see the economic opportunity, they’re moving past the stigma quite quickly.” 

But just this month, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth revealed he was not among politicians who currently have an appetite for cannabis lounges. In an interview with Business in Vancouver, Farnworth said he has no plans to legalize such operations.

“There are no plans at this point,” he told Business in Vancouver. “It may be [allowed] in the future, but there are a lot of issues with the medical health officer. There are workplace issues. There is a lot of public-policy work in those areas that has to be dealt with.”

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