Basements and garages were once the only places you could consume cannabis in peace. But now, if the provincial consultation process advances the interests of consumers, millions of Ontario residents will be able to try some forms of the newly legal substance in licensed commercial settings, including bars, lounges and outdoor festivals. One caveat to this development is that the province will not revise the Smoke Free Ontario Act, so only ingesting cannabis products, not smoking them, will be considered for enclosed public spaces.
By significantly increasing consumer choice, moving forward with commercial consumption would be a big win for cannabis consumers in Ontario. This move would bring cannabis regulation closer to alcohol regulation, a big improvement over current “lock-and-key” cannabis rules. More importantly, this would elevate the legal market over the illegal market by giving consumers something the black market never could: a legal and controlled place to consume.
That said, the specifics of how Ontario regulates consumption are key. Edibles and beverages should be available in any restaurant, bar, or clubs currently licensed to sell alcohol, as well as in stand-alone establishments dedicated solely to cannabis consumption. Ready access to legal consuming space is what can ultimately make the legal market more attractive than the alternative. The black market has always had various forms of edible cannabis available for sale but it has never offered a controlled and legal place for users to ingest or consume it. By liberalizing where it allows cannabis consumption the Ontario government can empower the legal and regulated market at the expense of illicit trade.
There are those who say cannabis and alcohol shouldn’t be mixed, and such behaviour shouldn’t be encouraged by allowing their sale in the same places. It’s true: people shouldn’t mix cannabis and alcohol. But that doesn’t mean these products shouldn’t be made available alongside each other, subject to appropriate regulation. Provincial certification programs could train servers both in the risks of combining alcohol and cannabis and in how to avoid abuse where possible. We already trust certified servers to understand the harms of alcohol intoxication and to cut customers off when they are intoxicated. It is not unreasonable to believe they can help enforce responsible consumption of cannabis.
In addition to commercial consumption, the province is also considering a special occasions permit (SOP) to accommodate cannabis consumption at concerts and outdoor festivals, to be used either separately or alongside an alcohol SOP. This should be reasonably simple to implement. Festivals would be able to offer their adult attendees a wider range of products, thus benefiting both vendors and future customers. As to smoking or vaping cannabis, festivals would be well within their rights to allow this in roped-off or age-restricted areas or wherever they currently allow tobacco use. Edibles and beverages could be sold alongside alcohol so long as the servers have the proper certification.
How do municipalities fit in? Ontario made the huge mistake of giving local city councillors veto rights on cannabis retail within their city limits. A city or town that opts out of cannabis retail obviously doesn’t mean consumers in those cities and towns can’t buy cannabis. It just pushes them back into the illegal market, which is precisely what we want to avoid.
Ontario should not make the same mistake with consumption. If a restaurant, bar, club or lounge can meet the provincial licensing required to sell edibles and beverages, it should be free to do so without busybody city councillors intruding into their business.
Green-lighting commercial cannabis consumption is the right thing to do. But the province must get it right. Competitive and consumer-friendly policies for commercial consumption would give consumers greater choice and convenience and help put a dent in the still-prevalent black market.
Originally published here.
The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.
The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org