A look at public consumption of cannabis in Canada…

Smoking a joint on a Winnipeg street will be very different than doing the same on Toronto’s Spadina Avenue. One is illegal while the other is not, according to the varied provincial laws on public consumption. Understandably, it can be confusing, but experts hope laws will eventually change to allow safe spaces for cannabis consumers to enjoy their products.

While the Cannabis Act mandates several nationwide laws, such as prohibiting driving while intoxicated on cannabis, each province dictates its own public consumption rules, with municipalities within those provinces also having their own legal opportunity to veer from the preordained path. For example, Ontario’s Markham municipality isn’t allowing any retail cannabis stores nor can Markham residents consume cannabis on public property. In Ontario, you can consume cannabis wherever smoking cigarettes is allowed.  Hence, the complexity of determining where it’s okay to consume cannabis.

Public consumption laws can be too draconian though, especially in provinces such as Manitoba that only allow for cannabis use on private property, says Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. “Marginalized young people may not have a private space where they can consume cannabis, so the more public consumption there can be legally, the more equity there can be,” he says.

When it comes to adult use, Owusu-Bempah would like to see cannabis lounges at some point in Canada, even though provinces have been slow to announce they’ll license any such venues. “We could look to Amsterdam, where cannabis is decriminalized and they don’t allow underage people inside, much like bars and underage drinkers.”

In a city such as Toronto, established cannabis lounges have so far been untouched by law enforcement, leading some experts to believe they’ll continue to flourish since they don’t sell cannabis. “It seems these lounges are in limbo,” says Paul Lewin [1], Ontario regional director of NORML Canada. “If governments can legally license these lounges, I think that would be a great solution to the problem of where people can consume cannabis in a safe space.”

In California cities such as San Francisco, a cannabis consumer can purchase bud or pre-rolls and enjoy them in a smoking lounge adjacent to the dispensary. No alcohol is served and asking others for cannabis is prohibited. TVs air the news or sports. Ashtrays dot every table. Some lounges are so popular there’s a lineup to get in and find a seat.

What’s interesting to see in Canada is how some university campuses are offering safe spaces for high students. As the Calgary Herald reports [2], the University of Calgary has opened its first Post Alcohol Support Space (PASS), a “room in the Cascade Hall students’ residence where those who’ve imbibed one too many can go to sober up safely, with everything from beds to medical resources at hand.”

“It’s important for people to know the PASS is there if they’re feeling out of control or unsafe — even if they’re just unsure how to get home,” Linda Hastie, a nurse and manager at the SU Wellness Centre, told reporters.

References:
1. Via interview conducted Oct. 22, 2018 
2. https://calgaryherald.com/cannabis/cannabis-news/cannabis-legalization/campus-safe-space-for-soused-students-expands-to-include-cannabis-at-university-of-calgary

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