Opinion: why you should support Ontario’s cannabis lounges

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Courtesy of Lift Magazine

Bring your own cannabis: owners of Ontario cannabis lounges are inviting patients and enthusiasts to drop in for a session and to fill out a quick survey on Thursday, March 1 – the Lounges Day of Action.

In a move that could reflect evolving attitudes towards the role of cannabis lounges post-legalization, the Ontario government is conducting a survey to determine how best to regulate vapour lounges in the province under the Smoke Free Ontario Act.

Advocates say the community’s participation will help make these social centres for cannabis culture a legal reality.

“Ontario is now looking at a progressive and realistic approach to consumption and public health policies,” says Abi Roach, who owns Toronto’s Hotbox Cafe [full disclosure: I teach at Ganja School, located at the Hotbox]. “We are pleased to see consumption lounges being included in the framework. Lounges provide a frontline to safer consumption education and product information. Including lounges also solves the dilemma of indoor only consumption for families, renters and more – as well as providing a solution to public.”

In recent years, a handful of activists have petitioned Ontario committees and MPPs to legalize and regulate cannabis lounges.

Instead, in 2015 the Ontario Liberal party said they would update the Smoke Free Ontario Act via an omnibus bill, the Making Healthier Choices Act. The move would prohibit public consumption of legal medical cannabis.

The day after 4/20 that year, I was at Queen’s Park stinking like yesterday’s marijuana to read an impact statement and seek an exemption for patients. As a long-time medical cannabis consumer and activist, I wanted the government to understand why public spaces for patients to consume is important.

Jonathan Zaid and Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana followed up with the Ontario Minister of Health, Eric Hoskins, who arranged a meeting with the department responsible.

Quietly, government moved to allow Ontario medical cannabis consumers to smoke or vape in public, and it included restaurants and workplaces where employers agreed. The exemption was carved out by publishing them as regulation in the gazette – no bill before the legislature.

“You Can Smoke Weed In Public Now In Ontario,” exclaimed the headline on VICE.

Within 24 hours, a major U-turn was under way.

Thanks to a Canada Press freedom of information request, we know that former staffers in the Premier’s office began “walking it back” a day later.

Ontario Liberals mounted a second effort to ban lounges and public medical cannabis consumption, but there were met with resistance.

Abi Roach organized and led the charge. Conservative MPP Randy Hillier met with advocates at Hotbox Cafe, spoke out publicly and introduced amendments to the act to allow vapour lounges.

The bill passed third reading, but got lost on its way to getting signed by the governor general. It simply languished – neither signed nor enacted.

Almost immediately following the passing and enacting of the federal Cannabis Act, Ontario Liberals moved to begin a consultation process for vapour lounges.

It’s been a

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