It’s been a rough road since day one and the pandemic has made the struggle even harder; cannabis consumption sites, also known as lounges, do not have it easy. As one could imagine, a virus that attacks the respiratory system is a serious threat to a smoking lounge. With that in mind, here’s a look at the current situation for BC’s cannabis smoking lounges; the legalities surrounding them, the effects of the pandemic, and an update on who’s still in operation.
The legalities of cannabis lounges
Here’s a crazy concept: if you’re going to legalize cannabis, you need to give people a place to use it. Cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018, but there are still no regulations for smoking lounges. Every cannabis lounge that has ever opened its doors has done so in a gray area of the law; This is because they provide a service that is both illegal and necessary. However, this might not be the case for much longer…
Provincially licensed cannabis lounges?
This past August, the Union of BC Municipalities announced that the province is looking into cannabis consumption spaces. “The BC Cannabis Secretariat plans to engage broadly with key stakeholders, including UBCM’s Cannabis Policy Technical Working Group, in the fall, with formal public and stakeholder engagement in 2022.” Although nothing has been decided or announced, UCBM has publicly stated some policy changes that we can expect. According to the statement made by UBCM, the following measures must be met:
- prohibit indoor smoking and vaping in public establishments;
- prohibit minors in cannabis consumption spaces;
- address drug-affected driving;
- prevent involvement of organized crime;
- discourage co-use of cannabis and alcohol; and
- require local and Indigenous government recommendations prior to the province authorizing cannabis sales.
BC’s Cannabis Smoking Lounges During the Lockdown
At the beginning of the lockdown, cannabis businesses were not deemed essential. But rational voices descended and that quickly changed. Cannabis dispensaries remained open through the lockdown so that they could serve the public. For smoking lounges, the choice to stay open or shut down was left to the discretion of each organization. At first glance, one might have thought the decision was simple. In reality, it had never been harder to make. The arguments to stay open were just as convincing as the ones to shut down. After all, if people are going to buy weed, they need a place to smoke it…
Why stay open?
- Providing a safe space to use cannabis is a community service that people depend on. During the lockdown, smoking at home was only possible for a limited number of people; especially if there were children in the household.
- For some, shutting down would have meant never opening again. Operating in a gray area of the law means limited access to resources and business solutions, including government subsidies and benefit programs. Any of the organizations that shut down were on their own financially.
- Maintaining air quality is a concern that smoking lounges know very well. Dealing with smoke and cleaning the air are a major part of operations, thus, most of these places are equipped with industrial air scrubbers. By adjusting the floor plan, patron capacity, and filter change schedule, operating safely during covid could be doable.
Why shut down?
- Less risk of exposure to covid-19, for both the staff and lounge patrons.
- The community safety unit was tasked with enforcing the rules of the provincial health order. Before the pandemic, they used to shut down unlicensed cannabis businesses. Staying open could have provided both the excuse and opportunity for enforcement action. Reopening a lounge that was shut down by the province is a lot different than if you closed it yourself.
- Staying open during the lockdown brought up concerns surrounding liability. The province responded by promising to protect essential businesses from all covid related liability. Because one could argue that lounges are illegal, they were valid concerns about this. On paper, it looked good, but when it got down to it, would the province protect unlicensed smoking lounges?
Cannabis Culture – Open
Vancouver‘s Cannabis Culture Lounge is currently open but they have reduced their hours of operation. In order to reduce the possibility of Covid exposure, surface sanitation and the staff cleaning schedule has increased significantly. In addition, Patrons are asked to wear masks but are able to remove them when sitting at their table. Because they do not run a food service, the staff are not checking for vaccine passports. For the most part, it would seem it is business as usual at this BC’s cannabis smoking lounge.
Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club aka VCBC – Closed
The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club is a non-profit compassion club, strictly focused on medical cannabis. From pediatric to palliative care, they will help anyone with a valid, incurable medical condition. Membership with the VCBC includes free access to their private indoor smoking room. In over 25 years of operation, the VCBC has kept this space available for members, regardless of the legal consequences. From the city, the province, WorkSafeBC, and The Vancouver Island Health Authority, many have tried to shut it down but every attempt has failed.
At the start of the pandemic, the board of directors voted to close the safe consumption room. Due to the high volume of immunocompromised members, the organization felt that anything less would not have been responsible. The risks were too significant and could not be circumvented. As of today, the room is closed.
Sometimes it can be really hard to find a place to smoke a joint, especially when you can’t at home. Whether it’s for medical recreational purposes, unregulated cannabis lounges provide a safe place to consume cannabis. Through all the challenges and the pandemic, it looks as though BC’s Cannabis Smoking Lounges are here to stay.