Cannabis industry laments lack of progress to allow spaces for consumption

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TORONTO – At Behind the Bend Cafe, diners sit by a fireplace nibble on cold meats and enjoy vanilla ice cream served in pineapple boats, but the menu isn’t why many flock to Lambton Shores, Ontario. place.

Customers visit because the cafe about an hour’s drive from London allows them to consume cannabis as long as they are 19 or older and bring their own legal jar and receipt.

No province or territory yet allows cannabis consumption lounges or coffee shops, but the owner of the Bend continued in business because patrons were reprimanded for consuming weed in public.

“I just tried to support my clients and provide them with a safe space, so they didn’t feel like they were going to get into trouble or get harassed,” said Laura Bradley, who also owns a nearby cannabis store.

Its patio – and similar businesses that have sprung up in recent months – are a sign of a frustrated cannabis industry that has long waited for regulations allowing consumption spaces, but has instead seen little progress and a health crisis extinguished. hopes that such laws come closer. .

Ontario appeared to be the first to allow spaces for cannabis consumption, when it sought public comment ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deadline for those comments passed over a year ago, but Attorney General Doug Downey’s press secretary said in an email this month: Further changes. “

The outlook is similar in other parts of the country. Most provinces and territories have told The Canadian Press that public consumption spaces are prohibited and many added that they are not even being considered.

“With the pandemic, we are now in a situation where everyone – restaurants, bars, hospitality in general – is trying to recover and has not turned their attention to consumer lounges at all,” said Will Stewart, a senior vice president at Hill + Knowlton Strategies, who has worked for Tokyo Smoke, Harvest One Cannabis and CannaGlobal.

“It’s really going to take political will, and I’m not sure we have that after a pandemic. “

But others say there are benefits to considering spaces now. Hotel businesses and restaurants need a pick-me-up after months of closure and with widespread immunization, people are eager to share experiences again.

“If restaurants are open, eating spaces can be a conversation,” said Andrea Dobbs, co-founder of Vancouver Village Bloomery Pottery Store.

Some provinces and territories seem to agree. The Yukon Liquor Corporation said in an email to The Canadian Press that cannabis consumption lounges are “under continuous review.”

The Union of BC Municipalities added in late August that the province’s cannabis secretariat also plans to engage with stakeholders around consumption spaces in 2022.

However, Stewart suspects that moving from talks to politics will be “difficult” as an election in Ontario looms and businesses were hopeful when comments were gathered before, but were ultimately disappointed.

“Cannabis companies in general are trying to find a way to increase their revenue and reduce their costs, so if there’s a business exclusively in the consumption space, it’s probably going through a very, very difficult time,” Stewart said.

Many have put aside their consumer space plans or have pivoted their businesses.

CannaGlobal, for example, which Stewart worked for previously, was building a cannabis consumption business under the name ByMinistry before the pandemic.

He hired Ted Corrado, former corporate executive chef for Drake Properties, to start a cooking school, run a secret catering club, and artisan menus for spaces and events, but Stewart said he has since moved. the company’s focus on psychedelics and rebranded itself as Good Cap Wellness. Inc.

“Three years is a really long time to be in a waiting pattern, so a lot of people have had to adapt, adapt, move forward, move on a different path,” said Jaclynn Pehota, CEO of the ‘Canadian Cannabis Association. Retailers (ACCRES).

But the demand for consumption spaces has not weakened, despite a shift in attention.

Pehota recently asked ACCRES members to rank the importance of 10 issues facing the industry and found that consumer spaces came second after promoting a BC program that would allow small growers sell products directly to private retailers.

She also saw high traffic coming from the consumption area of ​​the New Amsterdam Cafe in British Columbia and saw Dobbs open a cafe in his cannabis store.

It was selling smoothies and baked goods, but no cannabis-infused products until it closed quickly.

Meanwhile, Alchemy Canna Co. owner Richard Browne has set up two picnic tables next to his cannabis store north of Toronto. He plans to add umbrellas, barriers and if demand materializes, more places to sit.

He insists it’s legal because the tables are covered by store security cameras and far enough from his entrance to obey Health Canada regulations.

Bradley has taken similar action and is requiring staff to take Smart Serve training, check guest welfare, and cooperate with visiting authorities to inspect the premises.

“I’m going beyond that, so we’re not raising any eyebrows in any direction,” she said.

“None of the governing bodies that came here said, ‘we’re going to write that you have permission to operate,’ but they all said, ‘you don’t give us a reason to shut you down. “‘

While winter will put a damper on outdoor consumer spaces, Pehota believes such ventures will become mainstream as operators become “super creative” in the absence of legislation.

“But I think it would be nice if it didn’t need to be,” Pehota said.

“It would be a lot more beneficial for the industry and a lot easier for the public and our regulators if we just created a structure instead of leaving people to their own devices.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 27, 2021.


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