Ontario weighs cannabis consumption lounges, special-occasion permits

(This story has been updated with commentary from lawyer Trina Fraser.)

Ontario’s government is asking businesses and other stakeholders whether it should consider regulating cannabis consumption for lounges and cafes as well as offering special-occasion permits for festivals and concerts.

The feedback period ends March 10.

“We are asking Ontarians to share their feedback as we explore certain expanded cannabis-related business opportunities as part of our responsible approach to protecting families and communities,” Attorney General Doug Downey said in a statement.

The government said the feedback will inform potential decisions about business opportunities in an “open cannabis market” in the future.

It’s not the first time the province has consulted the public on cannabis lounges. The previous government also consulted the public on lounges before losing the 2018 provincial election.

Entrepreneurs should not expect any changes to be made in the near-term.

“No changes to the cannabis framework are expected at this time nor is there a current time frame for any additional changes that may be informed by this feedback,” the press release states.

The consultation paper notes that the government is not considering changes to laws and regulations prohibiting smoking and vaping in enclosed workplaces and enclosed public places, including restaurant and bar patios.

The Canadian federal government regulates the cultivation and production of cannabis, while provinces administer their own retail systems.

All adult-use cannabis products must be sold in accordance with federally regulated packaging restrictions, including affixed duty stamps and health warnings.

That means any resulting regulatory changes regarding lounges and cafes in Ontario would not include nonpackaged infused cannabis products at restaurants.

Trina Fraser, a business lawyer at Ontario-based Brazeau Seller Law, said not amending the Smoke Free Ontario Act significantly restricts the scope of what this consultation will cover.

On the edibles side of things, Fraser said the government is looking for input into issues such as preventing overconsumption and whether packaged cannabis-infused edibles and beverages could be served alongside drinks containing alcohol.

In particular, whether packaged adult-use cannabis products will be allowed for sale alongside alcohol in licensed establishments will be a key consideration.

The government also wants to know what other non-cannabis products should be permitted for sale if cannabis lounges were to be licensed, including accessories and food.

“If we end up with a situation where you just have a cannabis edibles lounge and all you can sell is finished, packaged edible products, can that possibly form the basis of a sound business model?”

The consultation documents can be found here.