Cannabis cafes, special occasion permits should be priority for province says local advocate

Before the pandemic began, the Ontario government held consultations on whether to allow cannabis lounges, cafes and "special occasional permits" for pot — which would allow for sales at places like festivals. One local business leader submitted a report.

Jon Liedtke says more sales will come with more availability

The Ontario government is maintaining the status quo when it comes to cannabis sales in the province, holding off on allowing cannabis cafes. (Joe Mahoney/Canadian Press)

Before the pandemic began, the Ontario government held consultations on whether to allow cannabis lounges, cafes and "special occasional permits" for pot — which would allow for sales at places like festivals.

Premier Doug Ford's government has stated its ultimate goal for cannabis is an open market, but at this point it continues to control all legal sales through the Ontario Cannabis Store, which has reported an uptick in online purchases during the pandemic. 

While the idea of Amsterdam-style cafes is currently on hold, CBC News Toronto obtained the results of the consultation through a freedom of information request, which showed health officials were mainly against such a service while businesses were in favour.

One of those who made a submission in favour was Windsor's Jon Liedtke, a cannabis consultant who used to run a medical marijuana lounge in downtown Windsor called Higher Limits.

"There was obviously a demand for this type business, not just from consumers who want to do it, but people who actually were forced to use a place like this because they're living in residences that didn't allow them to consume their cannabis on site," Liedtke said to CBC's Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette. 

Liedtke said he was also advocating that the province allow Special Occasion Permits (SOPs) for sales of cannabis at things like festivals or other occasions much like alcohol is. 

"Someone should be able to enjoy recreational cannabis the same way that they do a beer or a glass of wine," he said. "Someone who is having a wedding or a retirement party, they should be able to sell or distribute recreational cannabis that was purchased legally. And the only way to ensure that is through a SOP system."

The province has considered making changes to the cannabis landscape, including allowing cafes or SOPs, but all of that is currently on hold. 

Jon Liedtke, owner of the former Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge in downtown Windsor, said the province has "gotten better" when it comes to cannabis legislation. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Liedtke says Ford's open market system is an improvement, but Ontario would see more growth from cannabis sales if there were more opportunities to sell.

"They've gotten better," he said. "And with the largest amount of licensed producers being located in Ontario, one would think that the premier would make it as easy an opportunity as possible for those large scale cannabis producers to make money."

But in order to effectively run a cannabis cafe, some laws may have to be altered or reconsidered.

"The Smoke Free Ontario Act is the crowning jewel of the public health system in Ontario. It's taken a long time to build it up to where it's at and there's a lot of concern about regressing with it," said Liedtke. 

"But at the same time there hasn't been a lot of studies put into secondhand smoke of cannabis versus that of tobacco. So I think that a lot of concerns are unwarranted. But it is an obstacle that would be very difficult to overcome."

LISTEN | Hear more from Liedtke on his ideas for cannabis sales:

Health officials across the province have said they are concerned with more access to cannabis products, and the potential mixing of cannabis and alcohol, which can lead to dangerous levels of intoxication.

But Liedtke said this can be accommodated, and his business did not permit intoxicated people on the premises

"It's what the industry standard pretty much was across Ontario at the time was to not go and try to increase the risk vector that existed already," he said. "So by not allowing people to come into a space that had been drinking we kept our levels of aggression if you could say as low as possible."

In reports obtained by CBC News, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit said they were opposed to the sale of cannabis at lounges or cafes — especially edible versions — due to "unpredictable intoxication due to individual levels of tolerance." 

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with files from John Rieti


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