Culture

Move Over Amsterdam: Toronto May Have Legal Cannabis Cafes!

Imagine a cannabis culture like the one in Amsterdam? Lounges and cannabis cafes that allow you to indulge in your favourite flower, BYOW (bring your own weed) or bought from your after-hours locale of choice. Even better? Imagine yourself heading to a concert and being able to (legally) smoke as you enjoy the music?

Well, if either of those is your idea of a good time, we have some good news for you! According to recent news this week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has shared that as it moves towards an open market for pot in Ontario, that they are considering allowing cannabis cafes and lounges. The best part? They are asking the public (you) to weigh in on the proposal. 

The Progressive Conservative government gave no real timelines on this initiative, also stating that before moving forward, on anything, they are looking to consult the public. 

“We are asking Ontarians to share their feedback as we explore certain expanded cannabis-related business opportunities as part of our responsible approach to protecting families and communities,” shared Attorney General Doug Downey in a statement this week. 

“What we hear from the public and expert groups will help to inform possible next steps.”

More Than Just Venues

Cannabis Outdoor Party

On Monday, the Ford government stated that they would consult with the public on possibly moving forward with what they are calling “consumption venues.” Alongside the venues, they are also looking to provide special occasion permits (SOPs) that could allow you to enjoy your favourite herb at concerts or outdoor festivals across the province. These SOPs will help make enjoying cannabis at special events, a practice that is already occurring, offering the government an opportunity to further regulate cannabis use in public spaces. We believe that this is a step in the right direction; moving towards the post-legalization world that we expected to live in — just a few years later than expected. 

Thanks to these SOPs, you can expect more fun things to do in the city like this fun “Pot-io” that was a headliner at last summer’s Toronto Craft Beer Festival held at Ontario Place. 

The end goal of pushing this initiative? An open cannabis market – one that is very different from the earlier iterations that the province saw with the introduction of the cannabis lottery for retail licenses in 2018. This cumbersome cannabis lottery was scrapped last December after much criticism and following a shortfall in cannabis sale expectations

In an effort to remain competitive, the lottery was scrapped and since January 1st, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has received upwards of 700 retail operator license applications. The hope is that opening the market up, the province will be able to combat illegal black market sales of cannabis. 

“Ontario continues to take a responsible approach to cannabis retail sales across Ontario allowing private sector businesses to build a safe and convenient retail system to combat the illegal market while keeping our kids and communities safe,” Downey stated last Monday.

This latest round of consultation is to help inform the next steps and potential decisions about a future open market and the Ford government promises no changes to the cannabis framework at this time.

Toronto’s Lounge History

Kensington Market Toronto Cannabis

This is not the first time Toronto, specifically, has welcomed Amsterdam-esque cannabis cafes. Kensington Market has been a hotbed of cannabis-friendly venues, but since 1994, the increasingly restrictive Smoke-Free Act has prohibited the smoking of all tobacco in both enclosed workplaces and enclosed public places. Built to extinguish tobacco smoking, the Act never explicitly prohibited the smoking and vaping of cannabis, which had always been a controlled substance under federal drug laws. 

This brought on a wave of cannabis and vapor lounges throughout the city, and even the province. According to this 2012 City of Toronto report, there were around six of these so-called “consumption venues” or “lounges” across Toronto. Functioning until 2017, when in advance of legalization, the province enacted sweeping changes to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, leading to many of these being slated as illegal, most of them never saw the light of day again, under penalty of fine and closure.  

With these exciting changes on the horizon, we’re all excited to see what forms these new lounges may take. But… at the same time, we can’t help but wonder what it was all for, the closing of existing, long-running lounges across the city and the crackdown if it just meant opening them up again?

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