New Brunswick

What happens inside a Saint John cannabis lounge?

Bar stools. Music. Snacks. Friendly server. It's like a pub — minus the alcohol.

Bring-your-own-bud establishments are popular — but will they ever be legal?

The 'bar' at the Green Room, a Saint John vape lounge that provides cannabis consumers with equipment and a non-judgmental venue to get high. The New Brunswick government has decided cannabis, when legal on Wednesday, can only be consumed in a private dwelling or on land adjacent to a private dwelling. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Regulars chatting on barstools. Guitar propped in the corner. Chips and snacks for sale. Friendly server making recommendations.

It's like a pub — minus the alcohol.

Instead of getting buzzed on beer or cocktails, as many as 200 customers who visit the Green Room Lounge in Saint John every week go there to get high.

A selection of high-end dab rigs and e-nails — devices used to vaporize cannabis and cannabis oil — sit on the bar in lieu of pint glasses. There are board games to play and comfy couches where customers can chill out before calling a cab or leaving with a designated driver. 

Visitors to the Green Room are encouraged to come with a designated driver — or leave in a cab. (Julia Wright / CBC)

The Green Room, which opened in April, is officially a BYOB establishment: the second "B," in this case, stands for bud. It's a strictly non-smoking, non-drinking venue: only vaping is permitted and no alcohol is served. Cannabis products won't be sold on site after Oct. 17, when the plant is legalized across Canada.

To cannabis users, vape lounges seem like a civilized solution to the problem of public consumption.

Once the plant becomes legal, the reasoning goes, more people will be looking for places to consume it.

Instead of in alleyways, parks and bus shelters — why not a social space, where they can do so safely and comfortably?

But given the current legislation, things may not be that simple.

Strict approach

Cannabis lounges have existed for years in cities like Toronto and Vancouver. 

But New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador all intend to restrict legal, recreational cannabis consumption to private homes after Oct. 17.

"In New Brunswick, consumption of cannabis in any form will be prohibited anywhere but in a private dwelling or on land adjacent to a private dwelling (in your house, in your backyard, etc.)," according to a June 2018 fact sheet from GNB.

John Jurcina, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Justice and Public Safety, warns anyone smoking outside a private home 'may see charges brought before the courts.' (Ed Hunter / CBC News)

New Brunswick's approach is markedly more strict than the legislation in provinces like Ontario, which intends to allow cannabis smoking anywhere cigarette smoking is permitted.

John Jurcina, assistant deputy minister with New Brunswick's Department of Justice and Public Safety, reiterated anyone smoking outside a private home can expect penalties.

"You can't consume it anywhere but your dwelling," he said.

People caught smoking in "any places that have been designated as illegal … may see charges brought before the courts."

Problems for parents, apartment dwellers

But getting high in a private dwelling isn't an option for everyone — for obvious reasons.

According to a 2018 fact sheet from the province, landlords "can choose to restrict smoking in their units."

"If a landlord has units where smoking is permitted, they cannot restrict the smoking of cannabis," GNB says in an FAQ.

Cannabis will come in many forms and landlords will not be able to ban other forms of cannabis consumption," GNB states in a FAQ.

A cannabis lounge in Toronto's Kensington Market has been operated by Abi Roach, pictured, for nearly 20 years. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Edibles are not expected to be legal in Canada until 2019.

The only-at-home rule might, as a consequence, present challenges for people  who don't own their own home, parents with children, who may prefer not to smoke or vaporize cannabis at home, and visitors to New Brunswick who don't have access to a private dwelling in which to smoke or vape.

'More of a safe environment'

Matt Melanson, the former owner of three cannabis-friendly lounges in Moncton, Campbellton and Amherst, N.S., called cracking down on such lounges "crazy."

The Campbellton and Amherst locations of Dr. Greenthumb Lounge, which Melanson owned and operated, were eventually raided by police and shut down — resulting in a criminal record for Melanson and thousands of dollars in fines.

The Green Room in Saint John was open for business Monday, but the owner declined to be interviewed.

The exterior of the Dr. Greenthumb Head Shop at 61 Pacific Ave. in Moncton. Owner Matt Melanson operated three cannabis vape lounges in New Brunswick until they were raided by police and shut down. (Submitted)

Melanson said the money that will be spent on cracking down on people for smoking outside in public would be better spent on licensing establishments where people can consume cannabis without bothering anyone.

A medical user of cannabis, Melanson said vape lounges bring together "a community of people, and present an opportunity to educate people."

"It's more of a safe environment for people."

"Having lounges or weed bars are really important," he said, "to stop all the silliness of where you can smoke it, where you can't smoke it.

"There is no silliness with alcohol. It's very plain and simple: you can consume it where there is a liquor licence … and you can have it at your house.

"It doesn't make any sense."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julia Wright

Host, Information Morning Saint John

Julia Wright is a born-and-raised Saint Johner, reporter, photographer, and the host of Information Morning Saint John on 91.3FM. She has been with the CBC since 2016.

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