London, Ont. man wants Canada to allow cannabis restaurants and cafes

Jeremy Smith holds a copy of the provincial petition which can be found more than 100 cannabis retailers across southwestern Ontario. Jeremy Smith

A London, Ont. man with dreams of opening a pot-themed eatery says he’s in it for the long haul as he pushes provincial and federal governments to allow for cannabis infused food at restaurants and cafes in Canada.

Jeremy Smith says he’s spent the past year figuring out how to do so, contacting a number of decision-makers in Canada’s cannabis industry such as Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Health Canada.

“I was told I need proof of concept, so petitioning would be a great way to do it,” Smith said.

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This led him to launch a pair of petitions: An electronic one lodged at the federal government that was posted to the House of Commons’ website last week, and another petition collecting handwritten signatures for the Ontario government that can be found in over 100 cannabis retailers across the province.

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“I’m looking at over 10,000 signatures right now just in southern Ontario,” Smith said.

Smith, who is looking to open a cannabis restaurant called Les Munchies, says he was first drawn to the cause after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and eosinophilic esophagitis.

Smith was then prescribed prednisone, and after three weeks of use, he developed difficulty breathing along with pain in his arms and neck.

“Turned out I had double lung blood clots, blood clots down my neck, arm, legs and a blood clot hit my heart… after that I was in an extreme amount of pain, so they gave me painkillers,” Smith said, adding that the painkillers eventually led to slurred speech, blurry vision and mobility issues.

“They thought it was a stroke, but it turned out to be swelling around my pituitary gland.”

Click to play video: 'Medical cannabis myths and misconceptions'
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Seeking alternative forms of treatment, Smith eventually looked into consuming CBD, an active component of cannabis that’s been touted for providing medical benefits such as reducing inflammation or alleviating stress and anxiety. THC, another active component in cannabis, is known for its pyschoactive properties and is associated with providing the high that users receive when consuming cannabis.

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Given Smith’s condition, smoking CBD wasn’t an option, so a consumable form was the way to go.

“The problem with edibles right now, most of them are sugar-based, your chocolates, your candies, so people like myself with Crohn’s or people with diabetes, it does not sit well,” Smith said.

If his push for legislative change is possible, Smith wants his restaurant to provide healthy options for cannabis-infused food, whether it be infused with CBD for medical purposes or THC for recreational purposes.

“The amount of people that are telling me their stories and how this would help them and their health concerns, that makes it all worth it,” Smith said.

“It’s an amazing feeling to know that I’m able to help more people like myself.”

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Toronto-based lawyer Matt Maurer is the co-chair of the Cannabis Law Group at Torkin Manes LLP and was consulted by Smith for advice on the legislative push.

“I said to Jeremy, I can kind of tell you what needs to be changed in terms of the law and what that looks like,” Maurer told Global News.

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“But in terms of getting that political willpower, you need a lobbyist or someone like that with government relations experience to sort of figure out what the levers are and where are the best places to sort of pull those levers.”

What needs to be changed in terms of the law is a complicated issue, given the current legal framework surrounding cannabis infused food.

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Kitchens producing the food would require a licence under the Cannabis Act from Health Canada, Maurer said.

If a licence from Health Canada were obtained, those kitchens could potentially make edibles, but would still require another licence in order to sell those edibles from the provincial government.

“To make those products in the kitchen requires a change to the federal level… there’s prohibitions on even creating edible products in the same facility where other non-cannabis infused products are being created,” Maurer said, adding that kitchens could alternatively sell prepackaged products if the provincial government allowed them to do so.

“There would be a whole host of changes that need to be done. It wouldn’t be overly difficult to do it if there was the political willpower to do it.”

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As for generating willpower, Maurer says the question that’s yet to be answered is whether the public support shown in Smith’s petitions will lead to legislative action.

“One would think if the restaurant industry and the hospitality industry was really pushing for these and could show an economic benefit, while at the same time convincing everyone that there’s a safe way to do this… maybe that’s what needed,” Maurer said.

“Tens of thousands of people being supportive of it – I don’t know if that’s enough on its own to do it, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.”

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Smith currently has the support of Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose name is attached to the electronic petition in the House of Commons.

The provincial petition is being shopped to a number of MPPs who Smith hopes will bring up the matter at Queen’s Park when the Legislative Assembly of Ontario returns from its summer break in September.

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As for Les Munchies, Smith says he has a number of visions on the horizon that are contingent on how the legal push plays out, but wants the restaurant to open in London.

His edible endeavour has also garnered interest from a number of chefs across the country and other players in Canada’s food industry that he can’t yet name.

“There are big names that are going to be attached to this, all pending legalization and being able to actually open up the restaurant.”

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