Edmonton could be a leader for cannabis cafes and lounges, advocates say

Advocates of cannabis edibles are pushing Edmonton and Alberta to sanction social venues so people can consume in public, curbing the underground market.

Cannabis lounges currently not allowed under provincial legislation

With a variety of cannabis edibles now on the market advocates say social lounges for cannabis consumption are likely to follow. (CBC)

Gummies, chocolate, tea and sparkling water have been on the shelves of cannabis retail stores since the beginning of the year but now advocates of edibles are pushing governments to sanction social venues where people can share these products in public. 

Retailers made the case for cannabis lounges and cafes to Edmonton city council's community and public services committee Wednesday. 

Edmonton could be a leader in the up-and-coming industry, suggested Nathan Mison, Fire & Flower's vice president of government and stakeholder relations.

"Edmonton and Alberta have a real opportunity if they show the progressive capability of moving it forward," Mison said. 

So far, no jurisdiction in Canada has regulated cannabis cafes and lounges and only a handful of U.S. states has chosen to allow them. 

'Not everyone drinks'

Mison suggested the city could create a bylaw to regulate the industry, similar to what exists for bars and restaurants.

"Putting a framework together of a proposed system would be at the forefront of the provinces and other municipalities," he said. 

Legalizing public cannabis consumption would be a huge opportunity to put Edmonton on the map, said Lisa Campbell, co-chair of the Cannabis Beverage Producers Alliance.

"Not everyone drinks," Campbell said. "So in a restaurant setting there should be options if you want to choose to have a cannabis beverage, there should be an option for that." 

Campbell said taking the same framework and policy for alcohol and applying it to cannabis would pave the way for cannabis bars, lounges, restaurants and "even spa services." 

"There's a huge demand for infused dinners as well," she added. 

Councillor supports cannabis lounges

The retailers' pitch comes a week after the City of Edmonton released a report detailing the potential economic benefits of cannabis-themed lounges. 

But the province would need to revise the existing legislation governing cannabis to allow for such venues, Alberta's Treasury Board and Finance Ministry confirmed for CBC News last week.

So far, it has no plans to review the cannabis legislation, the ministry said. 

Coun. Scott McKeen suggested the city should start consulting residents about cannabis lounges.

"I've long said that if we could remove half the bars downtown or on Whyte Avenue and replace it with cannabis lounges, the police would have far less to do on a Friday night," McKeen quipped.

From left, Lisa Holmes with Fire & Flower, Lisa Campbell with the Cannabis Beverage Producers Alliance and Nathan Mison with Fire & Flower at city hall after Wednesday's committee meeting. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

The easiest first step for the city could be approving permits at special events, like festivals, Mison said.

"You could have an alcohol beer garden beside a cannabis consumption area," he said. 

The city says festivals and special events organizers can apply for a designated cannabis smoking area, similar to a tobacco smoking area, on festival grounds. 

Designated cannabis sites would follow the same as tobacco, such as requiring clear signs indicating the locations that must be 10 metres from doorways, windows and patios.

But the city points out that unlike smoking, edibles aren't regulated under its public places bylaw

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission also says there are no provisions in the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act (GLCA) or regulations that allow anyone, other than a licensed cannabis retailer, to sell cannabis.

Unique promotional events could be allowed at liquor establishments but those would be limited to advertising and promotion and not offer actual edibles.

Edibles Underground

Retailers say there's plenty of demand for cannabis-infused meals already. 

"I heard there was an infused sushi dinner I think two nights ago in Edmonton," Campbell said.  "So it's definitely happening on the underground level and it's up to us to create policy to bring that into the legal market."

The persisting underground market is one area legalizing edibles hasn't addressed, Mison said.

Creating social spots could rectify that, he said.

"There is a pervasive illicit market that if we want to see that as an opportunity to break that chain we have to create methods of responsible consumption and utilization of products."

City managers said cannabis-designated lounges would yield economic benefits to the city but their next move hinges on the province to update the legislation. 



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