Mayor Lisa Helps is unhappy with the opening of a cannabis lounge in Victoria. However, its owner said the new business provides a much needed service.
Helps said she’s “not OK” with The Green Ceiling, which provides a public place for pot puffing. She said the city is devising regulations that may put the kibosh on the enterprise, which opened its doors on April 18.
The Green Ceiling is the first of its kind in the city, said Ashley Abraham, the 28-year-old owner. While it doesn’t sell cannabis, the “vapour lounge” offers a coffee shop-style atmosphere for people wanting to smoke weed publicly.
Patrons, who must be at least 19 years old, pay $5 an hour. In return they have access to marijuana-smoking accessories such as papers, bongs and vapourizers. The Green Ceiling also offers board games and plans to host live music, comedy and art shows.
Abraham applied for a business licence but is still awaiting word from the city. She has met with a lawyer who said such a business is legal. She said she also spoke with a Victoria police community resource officer who told her she’d be breaking no laws by running a cannabis lounge.
Despite a growing public acceptance, Victoria police public affairs officer Const. Matt Rutherford said being in possession of marijuana is still a violation of Canadian law. However, the legality of running a lounge such as The Green Ceiling — which doesn’t sell cannabis — is a grey area.
“If [Abraham] is not in possession, I don’t know what she’d be charged with,” Rutherford said.
Helps said Abraham is in violation of a municipal bylaw if she operates without a business licence. Meanwhile, city staff are compiling a report on the regulation of marijuana-related businesses in Victoria. It’s expected to come before city council this month.
“My understanding is that one of the regulations is going to be no consumption of cannabis on the spot. We don’t have any regulations in place. But as soon as we do, this business won’t meet the guidelines,” Helps said.
Abraham said she opened The Green Ceiling because there’s a need in Victoria for public cannabis-smoking spaces. Many people are not permitted to smoke marijuana in their homes, particularly apartments and condominiums. And she said smoking in parks or on the street is inappropriate.
“You’re talking about someone who’s using cannabis and now they’re forced into a dark alleyway like a criminal. We need to get away from that,” Abraham said.
“This [smoking lounge] is a lot more civilized. It allows people to maintain their dignity.”
Born and raised in Victoria, Abraham used to run a bed-and-breakfast until she was injured in an automobile accident. She then got a job with the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, which provides cannabis for people using it for medical reasons. Abraham said her background in hospitality and cannabis makes her ideally suited to run The Green Ceiling.
The high-ceiling lounge has chandeliers, orange walls and tiled floors. It’s the former showroom for Gazzola Tile and Design on Quadra Street, which still operates next door. Abraham rents the premises from Gazzola. A sign on the wall forbids cigarettes and “blunt wraps” (joints using tobacco leaf as a wrapper).
There are other marijuana lounges in Canada, such as Marc Emery’s Cannabis Culture in Vancouver. Abraham said her inspiration is Toronto’s long-running Hotbox Cafe. She has spoken with its owner, Abi Roach, who advised her to be strong, avoid being a nuisance and keep at it. “She said I should know what I’m doing is a needed service.”
Last month, the federal government announced plans to legalize and regulate marijuana in the spring of 2017. Helps said she and Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay have written to the prime minister seeking guidance for municipal governments wanting to regulate marijuana use in the interim.
> Victoria debates marijuana rules, B1