Victoria councillor: Where can people use cannabis?

With pot legalization two months away, the City of Victoria should lay down rules on where people are allowed to consume cannabis, says one city councillor.

Cannabis vapour lounges are currently banned in Victoria, but Coun. Ben Isitt said that poses problems for renters who aren’t allowed to smoke cannabis in apartments or strata units as well as people with debilitating illnesses who want to consume cannabis in a social setting.

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“The question for that big segment of the population, literally tens of thousands of people, is where are they supposed to smoke the stuff?” he asked.

Isitt wants city staff to look to places such as Denver, Colorado, for inspiration on how to regulate cannabis-consumption sites in Victoria, according to a motion put forward to city council on Thursday night.

One option, Isitt said, could be cannabis-consumption patios where people can smoke in outdoor spaces on private land that have substantial setbacks from sidewalks and public spaces.

The city of Denver opened the door to cannabis consumption lounges in February, when it granted a business licence to a coffee shop called the Coffee Joint that allows customers over 21 to vape or eat edibles that they bring to the café. However, in order to comply with state law, the indoor coffee shop does not allow smoking and can’t sell marijuana products. Customers can buy product from the dispensary next door, which is under the same ownership.

However, Ashley Kilroy, the head of Denver’s department of excise and licences, which oversees marijuana regulation, said creating rules around social consumption is an ongoing experiment.

“We had to thread the needle carefully because public consumption is illegal,” Kilroy said. “And you can’t consume anywhere that serves liquor. Also, under state law, smoking indoors is not allowed.”

That leaves a narrow gap for coffee shops willing to let patrons BYOC — bring your own cannabis — which is hardly a lucrative business model.

As a result, the few cannabis-consumption spaces operating in Denver aren’t seeing a lot of traffic, Kilroy said.

She cited a recent survey of 800 pot users where 80 per cent said they prefer to consume at home.

Victoria’s lone cannabis-consumption space, Terp City Canna Lounge on Douglas Street, is illegal and is under pressure from the city to shut its doors. For a $5 cover charge, customers can smoke, vape or eat edibles and purchase snacks and kombucha.

Owner Kyle Cheyne estimates the business has been hit with at least $30,000 in fines, which it is fighting through a lawsuit against the city.

Cheyne welcomes Isitt’s motion and said it has been a long time coming.

“[The city has] licensed dispensaries all around the city and they’ve never said where people can consume,” he said.

Cheyne also owns Leaf Compassion Cannabis Dispensary at 950 Yates St. and said a courtyard behind the business would align with Isitt’s idea of having private patios away from public spaces.

If Isitt’s motion is approved, city staff would look at what’s being done in other jurisdictions and consider regional, provincial and federal laws before reporting back on the possibility of a pilot program or regulations for cannabis consumption sites.

City staff would have to ensure any regulations are in line with the Capital Regional District’s Clean Air bylaw, provincial WorkSafe regulations and federal cannabis laws, Isitt said.

“There definitely are huge hurdles, which is why the motion isn’t saying ‘let’s do this’, it’s saying let’s investigate the practices elsewhere and report back,” he said.

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