BuzzOn, Ottawa's first and only marijuana vapour lounge, shuts down

Ottawa's first and only marijuana vapour lounge is officially closed due to changes in the Smoke Free Ontario Act, its owner said.

Owner says he can't risk fines after changes to Smoke Free Ontario Act

BuzzOn opened at 29 Montreal Rd. in Ottawa's Vanier neighbourhood in 2015. (CBC)

Barely three months after sparking a city-wide debate over the rights of licensed pot users to puff where they please, Ottawa's first and only marijuana vapour lounge is officially closed.

BuzzOn offered a space for medicinal marijuana users to smoke and socialize. It opened in April 2015 at 29 Montreal Rd. in Vanier, but closed its doors for good last week.

A membership fee gave patrons access to vaporizer machines and house rules specified no tobacco, alcohol or drug dealing.

But one of the founders of the lounge, Wayne Robillard, says changes to the Smoke Free Ontario Act made it illegal to smoke prescribed cannabis anywhere tobacco isn't allowed, and his team couldn't risk the fines.

Dwindling attendance

"Earlier this spring they decided that they would include cannabis in the Smoke Free Ontario Act, and now you would not be allowed to vape, you would not be allowed to use e-pens or anything in the same area where hookahs, tobacco and e-cigarettes are banned, effectively cutting out things like lounges," Robillard said in an interview outside the shuttered lounge on Tuesday.

"It makes no sense to me that we can allow these things to operate for alcohol, yet we think we can control tobacco and you're going to be so draconian about cannabis."

Wayne Robillard, manager of BuzzOn, says he's not completely ruling out opening another lounge at a different location. (CBC)

He said that with dwindling profits due to lower attendance — down to about 32 customers a day after ranging anywhere from 40 to 70 — they can't handle potential bylaw enforcement.

"If you're willing to allow those fines to pile up and if you have the money to pay for the lawyers to fight them, great. But I have a day job, and as much as I like to think of myself as sort of a moderate activist, I have to keep a day job and I still have to earn a living so I can eat and keep a roof over my head as well," Robillard said.

"So as much as the lounge meant to us, we just couldn't afford to go through that much risk all over again. There was a lot of money tied up here, and it was a loss. There's no question about it. It was a financial loss, and we weren't going to go through more."

Robillard says people who used the lounge are sad to see it close. He isn't entirely ruling out reopening, but says it would have to be in a smaller, different location, and they'll wait to see what happens with the act and the federal government's marijuana legalization plans.