Could end be near for Ontario’s vape lounges?
When Canada’s largest cannabis lounge opened its doors in January, the goal was to welcome patients into a safe place where they could consume their medicine. That dream may be about to go up in smoke. Last month after the Ontario government was criticized for ruling to allow vaping in public, the province made a dramatic U-turn, proposing new changes to the Smoke Free Ontario Act. Those amendments would liken vaporizers to e-cigarettes, medical cannabis to tobacco and, ultimately, lead to the closure of vape lounges across the province. We spoke to Jon Liedtke, co-owner of Windsor’s Higher Limits, to get his take on what the removal of that important infrastructure could mean for the future of cannabis in Ontario.
You’ve emphasized time and again that these changes mark a clear violation of medical users’ rights. How so?
It will inhibit certain medical marijuana users from being able to take their medication. You have students who live in dormitories, people who live in low-income housing and even prisoners… what this law will do is anywhere smoking is prohibited and electronic cigarettes are prohibited, the combustion and vaping of medical marijuana will be prohibited as well. The government will be telling medical users where, when and how they can take their medication. It’s inappropriate and unconstitutional.
If someone who lives in public housing can’t medicate at home, a lounge or in public, it begs an important question: then where?
A lot of people don’t want to take their medication out in public and this legislation would force them to go stand on a sidewalk somewhere. That would legally be the only place really in the province where they could smoke – a sidewalk or in a private residence of a single-detached dwelling.
Do you see an inherent irony at play particularly in Ontario, where the government is calling for legalization yet saying people shouldn’t consume cannabis anywhere in public?
It’s very confusing. This is a province that has not only signalled that they want but are directing that they will place cannabis when it’s legalized in the LCBO. They want to have 100% of the sales and distribution of this product, but yet they don’t want people to be able to consume the medical product in public.
What will these amendments mean for businesses like Higher Limits and other provincial vape lounges?
It’s not only inhibiting medical users’ rights, but it’s also inhibiting the rights of store owners and business owners to initiate effective educational policies surrounding medical marijuana. The big thing for businesses like mine is we sell vaporizers, the Volcano Medic model, for example, which is a Health Canada-approved medical device. We won’t be able to discuss that product whatsoever with people when we sell it because it will fall under the Smoke Free Ontario Act. We won’t be able to communicate information or education or promotion regarding these devices.
You’ve pointed out that “cannabis lounges provide a safe and comfortable space to congregate, discuss meaningful issues surrounding cannabis and provide support and comfort to those seeking it.” Is the government overlooking these facts?
Absolutely. What we’re talking about are safe places that see harm reduction occurring on a daily basis. By removing these spaces, we will be forcing medical users to go out on the streets. Both [Prime Minister] Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne are advocating publicly for the use of safe-injection sites. Great policy. The premier is advocating for safe spaces for illegal drugs, yet she will be removing those spaces for legal [medical] cannabis users.
It seems the province took a hard left in saying medical patients could effectively consume anywhere, then veered hard right. Is the answer to this issue somewhere in between those two extremes?
The answer’s always in between two extremes. A reporter in November asked the associate minister of health and long-term care whether legalization would mean that medical marijuana users will be able to use their medication everywhere, and she answered yes. It was an off-the-cuff question, and it was an off-the-cuff response. Unfortunately, when you say something stupid it gets quoted. The newspaper stories started reading that marijuana users can light up in bars and movie theatres, and parents started calling up the government and so they had to do something. So the reaction was: ‘Let’s just ban it everywhere!’ This is reactionary legislation.
A date has yet to be set for when the proposed changes would be enacted. Is there enough time to instigate a discourse and effect a real change?
The real answer is no. We have three days of public consultation left. They want this legislation to be in place by July 1, and at that time it’s going to be a lot more difficult to effect change after the fact. That’s why we’re working as fast as we are.
Here’s to Future Growth!
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