Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he won’t support creation of cannabis lounges in the city, an idea being floated by the provincial government as the country heads toward legalizing recreational pot.
“As the former Minister of Health Promotion, Mayor Watson does not want to make it easier for people to smoke any substance, including cannabis, in lounges,” said a statement from Watson’s office. “This would also put the health of workers at risk by inhaling second-hand smoke.”
The province has asked the public to weigh in on the idea of lounges as one solution to the dilemma of where people will be allowed to consume cannabis.
Ontario has passed legislation that prohibits consuming marijuana in public, essentially forcing people to light up at home. Critics point out that people who live in apartment buildings and condos that ban smoking will have no legal place to smoke pot.
Last week the province said it will consider allowing both cannabis lounges and smoking/vaping areas outside multi-unit buildings such as apartments and condos.
Cannabis activist Lisa Campbell says both ideas make sense, although she consider it a “miracle” the government suggested them. Both the federal and provincial governments have taken a conservative, cautious approach to legalizing pot.
Illegal lounges have operated for years in Toronto, she said. Customers bring their own marijuana.
Campbell dreams of licensed lounges that would sell single servings of cannabis, just like a restaurant or bar.
Campbell, who co-organized a series of pop-up markets in Toronto that sold cannabis products, is part of coalition trying to make cannabis lounges and a demand for privately-run pot shops issues in June’s provincial election.
The Liberal government is vulnerable, she warns, because of the “political optics” of its drug policies. “You can go to a safe injection site to inject heroin, but you can’t go to a lounge to smoke a joint?”
However, Campbell expects public-health bodies will oppose the idea of cannabis lounges. She’s right.
Opponents see lounges as a step backward after decades of progress to ban smoking at work and in public places.
It’s a terrible idea to create enclosed indoor spaces where people will be exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke or vapour, said Andrew Noble, a program manager at the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association. “It would almost be as if the government is going out of its way to create indoor, enclosed spaces that are potentially toxic.
“And these places won’t run themselves. This will be somebody’s workplace.”
Another problem is that many pot smokers mix tobacco with their marijuana, said Noble. It would be difficult to prevent customers from doing that in lounges, he said. “You can say, ‘Oh, well, we aren’t going to allow that.’ But how are you going to police it? Are you going to inspect everybody’s joint?”