New rules outlaw cannabis lounges, Windsor owner refuses to shut down
Medical pot users call new regulations discriminatory
New provincial rules have outlawed cannabis lounges designed for medical users as of July 1, but one owner in Windsor, Ont. refuses to shut down.
Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge, which calls itself the largest in Canada, has been open in the downtown area for two-and-a-half years and said they've seen more than 85,000 people come through the doors.
'I'm not shutting down'
I think we're going down a very slippery slope here where we start to discriminate against medical users.- Jon Liedtke, owner of Higher Limits
The new Smoke-Free Ontario Act, which came into effect on Canada Day, clearly states medical cannabis users cannot smoke or vape in enclosed public spaces. And that includes lounges designed specifically for that purpose.
"I'll fight them to the end. I'm not shutting down," said Jon Liedtke, owner of Higher Limits.
He calls it a human rights issue, one that restricts a specific group of the general public on where they can consume their medicine.
"I can't tell someone not to take their medication," said Liedtke. "If this is what the 'smoking police' want to start doing, are they going to start walking into restaurants and telling grandparents that they can't take their medication at the table as well?"
"I think we're going down a very slippery slope here where we start to discriminate against medical users," he said.
New regulations expand the ban
The new regulations ban the smoking or vaping of medical cannabis anywhere smoking tobacco is already prohibited, which includes enclosed public spaces. However, they take those rules one step further by also restricting it near schools, recreational facilities and outside of bar and restaurant patios. That also now includes the smoking of tobacco and use of e-cigarettes.
This leaves Jonah Komon very few options to smoke his medicinal marijuana. The 24-year-old has a license to treat pain associated with spinal dysraphism, a condition caused by issues with the spinal cord.
"Sadly there's not many safe spaces to consume cannabis in public without being harassed or maybe looked down upon by people passing by," Komon said.
It's unclear what will happen to the Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge since it appears to contravene the new Smoke-Free Ontario Act.
Enforcement falls on health unit inspectors
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit enforces the new rules and tells CBC News they don't have the ability to shut down non-compliant establishments.
Instead, they take a "progressive enforcement approach," which starts with educating the establishment, followed by possible warnings.
"We do have the ability to charge under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act and issue a fine to those businesses, but that is unlikely," said Eric Nadalin, manager of chronic disease and injury prevention, because they're "very willing" to work with businesses to get in compliance.
Ministry uncertain over new rules
However, the new rules seem to be a bit hazy at the provincial level. CBC News asked the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care if a vape lounge to consume medical cannabis will be prohibited on July 1. The ministry spokesperson was unsure.
"The ministry remains in caretaker mode until the incoming government is in place. As such, the ministry is not in a position to comment at this time," said spokesperson Mark Nesbitt in an email.