Edmonton considers legalizing cannabis consumption lounges

Published on November 5, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Jesse Milns/Leafly

Edmonton city councillor Mike Nickel is pushing his city to adopt bylaws allowing for cannabis lounges, making Edmonton the nation’s first municipality to consider legal consumption sites.

“If it’s a legitimate product, then we have to see it consumed responsibly,” Nickel told Global News. “Cannabis lounges are going to come. […] How do we create these lounges? How do we make them happen? How do we zone these things?”

Cannabis lounges may do little to excite business executives like Victoria’s Secret turned Green Growth Brands CEO Peter Horvath, who said of venues where people consume cannabis on site, “It sounds like a repulsive experience to me.”

Horvath’s opposition to cannabis lounges has largely to do with their low margins and low potential for profit, but many cannabis consumers—particularly medical consumers— find cannabis lounges or “cafés” offer a variety of advantages.

Some patrons enjoy being able to rent more sophisticated vaping (or smoking) equipment than they can personally afford to own themselves, while others like being able to use cannabis openly in a stigma-free space.

Depending on the province, lounges can be a refuge for cannabis consumers allowed neither to consume cannabis in their rental apartment or condo, nor to do so in public. New cannabis users appreciate the guidance and insight from knowledgeable staff, while others argue lounges reduce public cannabis consumption.

Politicians, though, have not been in a hurry to approve consumption lounges. Ontario’s Conservative Ford government changed the Smoke Free Ontario Act to make cannabis consumption regulated similarly to tobacco smoking, rather than alcohol use, and in doing so effectively outlawed cannabis lounges in the province of Ontario. Primarily at issue were not only concerns about patrons’ health, but also the health of employees in contact with second-hand smoke.

Those issues drove Alberta’s initial reticence to license cannabis lounges (albeit partly due to ill-informed beliefs that second-hand cannabis smoke in a lounge would be enough to impair bystanders).

However, from the beginning, Alberta has always been more open to lounges than other provinces—partly because cities like Calgary have banned public use entirely. After briefly considering allowing consumption in public parks, public outrage over the idea led Calgary to drop the idea of “pot parks,” but on both the provincial and municipal levels, Alberta governments have openly discussed lounges since the beginning of legalization.

Unlike other provinces and municipalities that rejected lounges outright, Alberta said it would consider allowing lounges—after the second wave of legalization occurred.

With the 60 day runup to the release of new products well under way, Edmonton may well become the first Canadian municipality to allow consumption lounges, though it certainly won’t be the last.

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Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse Staniforth reports on cannabis, food safety, and Indigenous issues. He is the former editor of WeedWeek Canada.
View Jesse B. Staniforth's articles
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