While the cannabis legalization club is still relatively exclusive, I suppose it’s some consolation to Canada that it’s not the only member of that club to have struggled with the question of public cannabis consumption.
And while the members of the legalization club deserve credit for being bold enough to join in the first place, it is bewildering that they should be so vexed by a problem with a very simple and obvious solution. Simply put, we need to allow cannabis lounges and the sooner we figure that out the better.
Ironically, it’s been a not-quite member of the legalization club that’s helped show the way. In The Netherlands, where cannabis is almost-but-not-totally legal (my friend Jules does a much better job of explaining it), cannabis cafes have existed for decades with very few problems.
Here in Canada, with the legalization date of Oct. 17 looming, it’s looking as though legal cannabis use will be largely restricted to private residences — unless those residences happen to be condos or rental units where the landlords have forbidden cannabis use.
In fairness to the federal government, it hasn’t closed the door on cannabis cafes or lounges. However, Canada’s provinces — which would have the authority to license such establishments — have shown virtually no interest in going down this path.
For now, we have a patchwork of provincial laws that either prohibit public cannabis use altogether, or allow cannabis to be used where tobacco is currently allowed. However, even in some provinces that fall into the latter category, municipal governments have the option of applying their own bylaws to ensure that public use remains forbidden.
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That’s the case in my home province of Alberta. The Notley government is not prepared to license cannabis lounges, but left the door open for cannabis use to be regulated like tobacco. Calgary, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with outdoor public cannabis use.
After having previously implemented a harsh bylaw that banned any and all public cannabis use, Calgary considered an exemption for so-called cannabis consumption zones. Four outdoor parks were identified, but after a public backlash, Calgary scrapped the idea. Mind you, given that Alberta has been experiencing winter-like weather in what is still technically summer, maybe the outdoor option isn’t the ideal solution.
Similar debates are playing out across the country and it’s quite likely that even after Oct. 17 has come and gone, we’ll still be trying to figure this out. And through it all, the stubborn refusal to examine the option of cannabis lounges persists.
It’s probably true that this proposition would be a lot simpler if Canada were permitting cannabis vaping and edibles. Vaping lounges would obviously remove the smoke conundrum from the equation. Unfortunately, it’s going to be another year before products like that are legal.
That shouldn’t preclude us from implementing sensible policy. Part of the value of legalization is that it removes a stigma around cannabis use that unfairly exists in the first place. Much of the panic around issues like cannabis sales, home-grown cannabis, and public use only serves to reinforce that stigma.
The state of California may be late to the legalization party, but it may turn out to be the trendsetter when it comes to establishing cannabis lounges. A handful of California cities, including West Hollywood, San Francisco, and Oakland, have begun accepting licence applications for cannabis lounges.
Colorado was a legalization pioneer, but it has taken longer to get to this point. Earlier this year, the city of Denver granted its first licence to a cannabis café that allows vaping and edibles to be consumed.
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There are numerous entrepreneurs and cannabis activists who are more than eager to operate such businesses in Canada. There are many cannabis users who are crying out for such an option. It’s also a desirable option for the non-users who’d prefer to keep to a minimum the amount of cannabis smoke and vapour in public.
Whatever issues we think such cannabis lounges might create, they pale in comparison to the problems we’re inviting with our current restrictive and scattergun approach to public cannabis consumption. Just as common sense eventually prevailed in doing away with prohibition itself, hopefully common sense can prevail here, too.