Places for pot: Edmonton to look at options for cannabis cafes

The City of Edmonton is entertaining ways to license cannabis cafes and lounges despite provincial and federal legislation that currently restricts consumption in public establishments. 

Cannabis lounges and cafes currently not allowed under provincial legislation

Pot-infused brownies are divided and packaged at The Growing Kitchen in Boulder, Colo. Edibles were made legal in Canada in 2019, though there are currently no provinces that allow cannabis lounges or cafes. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

Edmonton will take its first real look at licensing cannabis cafes next week, though currently such establishments are not legal in Alberta nor anywhere in Canada. 

The provincial Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act would have to be revised before municipalities can approve business licences. 

The city released a report Thursday presenting three models, when or if the rules are relaxed. 

The first scenario would allow patrons to consume cannabis edibles in a stand-alone facility, another would allow both cannabis edibles and alcohol in the same location and a third option would allow patrons to consume cannabis in the same venue, but in a separate room from alcohol. 

Smoking or vaping cannabis inside would not be allowed. 

Edmonton city councillor Mike Nickel asked administration last November to look at other jurisdictions that allow cafes, to outline the economic benefits of such a business and present the regulations needed to put them in place. 

Nickel sees the potential for new business and jobs in Edmonton. 

"There's value-added manufacturing because I'm also interested in people actually making product, you know, to be consumed be it drinks or cakes or whatever — brownies whatever — but they have to have a safe place for them to actually consume."

The city report notes that a stand-alone cannabis cafe with no alcohol would likely result in the most economic benefit, as new sites would require construction and specialized service. 

Several U.S. states have cannabis lounges, including California, Alaska and Michigan. 

Edmonton to look at options for cannabis cafes

4 years ago
Duration 3:59
Featured VideoReporter Natasha Riebe discusses the possibilities for Edmonton to license cannabis cafes in the future.

The states listed in the report separate cannabis consumption from alcohol. They have other regulations, such as requiring lounges to be 600 feet from a daycare, school or youth centre. 

Health Canada said the federal government is required to review the Cannabis Act by Oct. 17, 2021 — three years after went into effect.  

A report outlining the results of the review must be tabled in Parliament within 18 months, no later than Apr. 17, 2023.

But allowing lounges is really up to the provinces.

"While a personal chef, restaurant or commercial kitchen could seek a federal licence to produce edible cannabis products for commercial purposes, they would not be able to sell those products to the public without a provincial or territorial licence," Health Canada said. 

A spokesperson for the Alberta Treasury Board and Finance Ministry, which oversees cannabis legislation, told CBC News that the minister has no plans to review the act. 

John Carle, executive director of the Alberta Cannabis Council, a non-profit working to raise awareness on the industry, said it's not clear yet if there's strong interest in starting such lounges.

"I don't know who's going to be that first company to take that first step because someone's got to break the mould here and it just seems like everyone's waiting for everyone else to do it."

Nickel said the hospitality industry will be a key player in paving the way for legal cannabis cafes and that someone from industry needs to present a business case to the city.

In turn, the city can lobby the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, which enforces the provincial legislation and can suggest changing the rules. 

Council's community and public services committee is scheduled to review the city report at a meeting Feb. 26.