Doug Ford says he doesn’t like the idea of cannabis smoking lounges, at least outside.
In response to a question during a press conference, Ford initially began by saying he believes the market should decide the fate of cannabis stores, not the government, before pivoting to his dislike of the idea of areas where people can smoke cannabis.
“I don’t like the idea of, you know, having a lounge outside and they’re smoking their doobies or their weed or whatever the hell they call it… or sorry, whatever the heck they call it nowadays, and some kids walk by and there’s all this smell? I don’t know, I don’t like that, personally. If you want to do your stuff, do it somewhere else.”
The question was in reference to a recent Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) report sent to Ford calling on him to address cannabis store “clustering” and allowing cannabis consumption sites. The OCC has been championing many cannabis industry-related issues.
The chamber’s report supported the idea of cannabis spaces where people can consume cannabis on-site, similar to smoking areas in certain venues and special occasion permits for concerts, sporting events, etc.
Ford shared similar sentiments at a press conference in 2020:
“They’re making it legal to go out and smoke a joint, a doobie, a reefer, whatever the heck they call it nowadays,” he said while those in the background chuckled. “I wouldn’t want my kids walkin’ by with a bunch of guys smoking cannabis or marijuana, but if a couple of guys are sitting there quietly on a picnic bench, having a cold little beer, who cares?”
Many in the cannabis community have pushed for similar legislation in different provinces, and a few spaces have emerged here and there, but concerns from different levels of government continue to push back.
British Columbia released its own What We Heard consultation report on the possibility of cannabis consumption lounges in January. The results were somewhat predictable: cannabis consumers and those connected to the industry were generally in favour, while non-cannabis users were against the plan.
Public health and law enforcement, for their part, expressed similar concerns they’ve had all along with legalization: health consequences, keeping it out of the hands of young people, and increased rates of impaired driving.
Outdoor consumption has been one of the areas where consumption spaces have made ground in recent years. Many in the industry see opening up cannabis patios and gardens at special events, like concerts or festivals, to be the most likely first step in relaxing consumption rules.
Last summer, several festivals, including the Edmonton Folk Fest, offered smoking areas for cannabis users. In 2021, retail cannabis shop owner Laura Bradley even opened up a dedicated consumption space business in Grand Bend, ON—a small beach town on the shores of Lake Huron. Called Behind the Bend, it’s a standalone patio behind her retail store (called The Bend) that permits guests to smoke legally purchased cannabis on-site.
How did she manage to do so within existing regulations? “Very creatively,” she said. “I follow all the Smoke Free Ontario rules, the AGCO rules, the federal rules,” she said, admitting however that she “wasn’t 100 percent confident” that the idea would fly. Municipal officials—keen to keep pot smoke off the popular family beach just down the road—have quietly approved of the business.
So far, though, these businesses have mostly been the exceptions that prove the rule, so to speak. Behind the Bend has been able to operate thanks to a unique set of circumstances and loopholes within the regulations.
Festivals have successfully incorporated smoking gardens by not permitting on-site sales (and are likely helped by the existing prevalence of cannabis anyways). But to go from isolated examples to a full-fledged, regulated sector is a jump that regulators don’t seem keen—or ready—to make.
“There are loopholes,” cannabis lawyer Matt Maurer told StratCann recently. “And by loopholes, I mean there are locations that are suitable, and not technically prohibited.” It’s that ambiguity that has allowed something like Behind the Bend to operate successfully he says, but he also notes that the legal questions around it are far from settled.
“If we just meet up in the parking lot once a week and smoke a joint, no problem,” he says. “If you turn that into a business, then the question from a legal perspective is, what’s the difference?”