No Government Appetite for Consumption Spaces
During the Lift Cannabis Expo Consumer Day 2023, an important panel discussed the future of cannabis tourism and consumption spaces in Ontario. When asked to suggest a song that best describes this untapped market, advocate Daniel Safayeni sang a lyric from the Eagles’ 1979 hit, “I Can’t Tell You Why.”
Daniel is the Vice President of Policy at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. His organization proposes that the Government of Ontario should consider licensing private consumption lounges for Ontarians to consume cannabis products.
Daniel was joined by three other Lift Cannabis Expo panelists at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. Jessica Ng, Susan Dupej, and Moderator Ivan Ross all shed a red hued spot-light on this emerging industry. If you took just their word for it: It’s leisure and lounges; it’s adventures and responsibility.
But ultimately, it’s a matter of perspective; some people do see something wrong with this idea. Even the historically vice-tolerant Netherlands is now subduing its infamous red-light district. Citing a recent BBC article, Jessica, Director of Policy and Government Affairs for the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, mentioned that “the sale of alcohol from shops, liquor stores, and cafes in the red-light district is illegal from Thursday to Sunday after 4pm. Additionally, it will soon be illegal to smoke cannabis on the street in Amsterdam’s red-light district under new regulations unveiled by the city.”
Perhaps then, consumption spaces aren’t in the best interest of the Canadian public. But that depends on where the issue really lies – unruly tourists seem to be the real problem in Amsterdam. If public consumption some how gets banned in Canada, where are the responsible, consenting adults to go for cannabis enhanced socialization and community? Should what happens in Amsterdam, really stay in Amsterdam?
“Covid was a huge setback, and the conversation died [in Canada],” Daniel said. “It will take elbow grease to renew interest.” Unfortunately, our own Ontario premier, Doug Ford, continues to perpetuate the “dope” stigma of cannabis by describing the smell of “doobies” and completely disregarding the alternative forms of safe and sanitary consumption, while hypocritically promoting cannabis’ evil twin: alcohol. ‘Buck-a-beer’ anyone?
The panel at Lift Cannabis Expo was led by Ivan Ross, managing partner at Diplomat Consulting. “It’s a mother pie question,” he ponders. “It will take synergy between business leaders and local governments to build this type of wellness tourism. It will come down to the public’s principles, values, beliefs, and character.”
Susan Dupej, a Cannabis Tourism Researcher at the University of Guelph and president of the Canadian Cannabis Tourism Alliance, believes that “Edmonton is already embracing this and it will likely soon be an official BC mandate.” She highlights CANNANASKIS as an example, created by award-winning journalist Dave Dormer, which provides cannabis-based experiences, information, and education in a safe and welcoming environment.
“There is no ministry task force,” adds Daniel. “This untapped sector has stagnated growth in the cannabis industry. The government shows no appetite for things like culinary experiences. It’s largely nascent, despite its economic viability. It deserves a pilot study.”
Susan goes on record as “pro-smoke lounge” and sensibly observes that Ontario’s Smoke-Free Act is short-sighted. “Former Ontario Deputy Premier and Minister George Smitherman is an ally on this topic,” she says. As reported in a 2022 CBC article, Smitherman, now President and CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada, says that “these spaces are a step toward the normalization of cannabis consumption.”
Other pioneers in the consumption space movement include HiBnB, Hotbox Cafe, and the once bustling Up in Smoke Cafe. These businesses all demonstrate precedent and prove demand. Perhaps the model should be similar to short-term rental platforms like AirBnB. For instance, at the “420 friendly” Dreamers Writing Farm, as is permitted by the Ontario cannabis laws for hotels, motels and inns, guests have a safe place to consume while staying overnight, which mitigates the risk of impaired driving.
For cafes and lounges, special event permits and licenses such as those provided for alcohol consumption seem like the obvious solution. So why hasn’t this been implemented when the scientific literature on alcohol vs. cannabis clearly shows alcohol use to be substantially more problematic? (See research examples here, here and here.) Unfortunately, I can’t tell you why, I can only sing along with Daniel:
“We make it harder than it has to be…”
For more information on this topic, checkout the Canadian Cannabis Tourism Alliance at: canadiancannabistourism.com.