A craft beer festival hosting a cannabis smoking lounge smells funny. That it’s called the POTio is obviously punny. Regardless of relevance or lack of creativity, the Toronto Craft Beef Festival will host one of the first legal cannabis lounges in Ontario, and the country, in June.
The POTio kicks off the inaugural festival season since cannabis legalization in October 2018. This summer lighting up in the middle of a concert or munching a homemade edible at the beach won’t be illegal. But with three levels of jurisdiction and a patchwork of rules across the country, consuming cannabis in public is not necessarily legal, either.
The reason is that all three levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal – have rules about consuming. The base legislation is federal Cannabis Act, which says a person must be 18 years of age to consume cannabis. Next up, the province’s take their turn. All but Quebec raised the minimum age to 19 and applied the same restrictions to cannabis as were already in place for tobacco. The ones complicating everything are the municipalities, which are free to set their own restrictions within the federal and provincial regulations. So while, Calgary’s mayor and council outlawed public consumption, Edmonton’s allowed cannabis everywhere except near schools, playgrounds and city parks.
When it comes to individual festivals and events, rules for consuming are set by a negotiation between promoter’s wants and what rule makers will let them have. British Columbia isn’t allowing any special event cannabis permits in the province, which means no “pot gardens” in addition to beer gardens. Elsewhere the public pressure is pushing prohibition leaning municipalities to loosen up. Calgary’s city council tweaked its outright ban to open the door to special event “cannabis consumption areas.”
“Obviously, it’s not going to be as big of a financial incentive as beer gardens would be, and that’s simply because the province isn’t allowing for sales anywhere other than a brick-and-mortar store or their online store,” says Matthew Zabloski, the lead on cannabis policy for the city of Calgary.
The Calgary Folk Music Festival was granted a permit and plans to have a small “discreet” area fenced off for cannabis users, says the event’s executive director Sara Leishman. However, the city’s biggest outdoor festival, the Calgary Stampede, is banning all cannabis use at the grounds.
In Toronto, POTio took over what was the tobacco smoking area at the venue at Ontario Place.
“What better way to optimize on a sensory experience than by adding some cannabis to the mix.” — Tony Millar
“What better way to optimize on a sensory experience than by adding some cannabis to the mix,” said the beer fest’s spokesman Tony Millar explaining the decision to include the lounge. “With cannabis being legal, it is legal to consume in designated (smoking) areas. We just wanted to make sure our guests were having a good experience, and a safe experience.”
The lounge is only a designated venue to consume and won’t sell cannabis, says Abi Roach, POTio’s promoter. She says it will cater to the people who would bring their own cannabis regardless.
“People don’t want to break the law,” she says. “People want legal spaces to consume their cannabis.”
Other Ontario festivals are following the beer fest’s lead. The designated smoking area at Ottawa’s Bluefest will allow cannabis smoking and vaping along with tobacco products.
Nine months into cannabis legalization there’s still lots to figure out when it comes to cannabis and outdoor festivals.
“If the government can’t create the kind of environment that is conducive to cannabis consumers, then legalization will fail,” warns Roach.
In the meantime, the only sure place to consume cannabis is on your private property. (Renters and apartment owners need to check with landlords and strata councils.) For home owners your cannabis castle includes your back yard. Depending on where you live, this summer it might be the only pot garden allowed.
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