Why Canada needs public cannabis consumption lounges


Three people consume cannabis joints in a consumption lounge with windows
Consumption Lounges are places where people go to consume cannabis in its various forms. (Photo by Cannaclusive on Flickr)

In 2018, Canada became a world leader in creating socially responsible cannabis legislation, permitting adult recreational use for the first time. Yet despite this position, Canada has not yet created any regulatory framework for cannabis consumption lounges. One common critique of this government is that its restrictive policies actively prevent cannabis businesses from being innovative and profitable market leaders.  And in fact, some industry leaders believe Canada has already lost its first mover advantage in the global market because of the Canadian regulators’ intense focus on public health and safety to the exclusion of all else, including good business practices.

Cannabis is an historically stigmatized and misunderstood plant.  By disallowing public consumption and failing to offer clear and meaningful rules around consumption, the Canadian government has succumbed to stigma and ignorance. False starts at creating consumption regulations and legislation actively preventing public consumption have resulted in Canada falling behind other jurisdictions currently setting precedents for socially responsible and informed cannabis policies. 

A screenshot of the Ontario Public Consultation on Cannabis Consumption Lounges
Ontario conducted a public consultation around Consumption Lounges, but so far has not enacted any legislation.

Cannabis legalization in Canada is swiftly approaching its 4th birthday, and as the consumer and industry mature, regulations should also evolve to meet the needs of Canadians. If Canada regulated public cannabis consumption, it would provide important opportunities for relaxation, socialization and education among cannabis consumers, as well as provide economic benefit to both the cannabis and tourism industries.

The (recent) history of bars in Canada

People often compare cannabis to alcohol so thinking of how bars fit into our society is a good way to conceptualize how cannabis consumption lounges could fit in as well. Throughout history, bars have been a common place for people to find entertainment, relax, and socialize. 

After Canadian Prohibition ended in 1933, “beer parlours” became more common. There was no bar and patrons were required to sit at a table while they drank the single brand of draught beer available. Local laws usually didn’t permit food or entertainment like playing games or music, so they were strictly places where people consumed alcohol, and nothing much else happened there.

Four men and two bartenders stand inside an old-time beer parlour, a precursor to consumption lounges.
Beer Parlours were quiet places where patrons could drink beer and do little else. (Image source: LiquorRetailer.com)

Over the next 15 years as World War II swept across the globe, around 1 million Canadians served in the armed forces in the UK. While overseas, they became familiar with the UK’s public house traditions, including using the “pub” as a social gathering place for both men and women, and playing games like darts, snooker, or pool.

Over time, providing entertainment and serving food became more common as a way of preventing patrons from drinking to excess. (Image Source: LiquorRetailer.com)

As a result, the Canadian tavern became more popular over time, especially for working-class people. Today, bars entertain patrons with events like karaoke, dancing, live music, sports, show watching parties, speed dating, open mics, trivia night, and stand-up comedy.

Consumption lounges meet an important need for relaxation, socialization, and education

But unlike with alcohol, Canadians don’t have an indoor public place to go for socialization and entertainment while they’re consuming cannabis. Instead, they’re forced to gather in outdoor parks, private homes, or the occasional outdoor patio that a nearby cannabis retail store owner has managed to secure for consumption.  Just like people who drink alcohol, people who consume cannabis would prefer to have designated venues for consumption.  Socialization is a basic human need, and people are entitled to gathering spaces where they can talk, share ideas, be entertained, and relax in an environment that is enjoyable. 

3 women socialize at a table in a consumption lounge while rolling joints
Consumption lounges would fill the human need for socialization, a vital part of the human experience. (Photo by Cannaclusive on Flickr)

By failing to allow places for consumers to gather, Canadian regulators perpetuate stigma.  Opponents argue that providing legal spaces normalizes consumption, but in fact, that is exactly what legalization was supposed to accomplish. When places for consumption are integrated into society, people can regularly see cannabis consumption, understand what it looks like and how consumers behave, and understand how consumption fits into society. Beyond that, consumption lounges would provide a place for extensive consumer education by giving newbies the opportunity to consume alongside experts, access resources from established sources of education, and learn more about consumption methods, dosing, and safe consumption practices.

Spaces that allow on-site cannabis consumption would fill the same needs for cannabis consumers that bars do for alcohol consumers. These could take a variety of formats, including allowing smoking flower (like currently existing cigar lounges), allowing the vaping of flower and concentrates, or by consuming cannabis-infused products like edibles, beverages, and oils. Seasoned consumers know that mindset and setting are very important to the outcome of the overall cannabis experience. By offering legal places for consumption that are enjoyable, relaxing, and provide entertainment, regulators would be elevating the legal market over the illicit one by giving consumers something the black market never could: safe, regulated, and controlled spaces for cannabis consumption. 

The hands of two people as they roll a joint
Consumption lounges would provide places for people to socialize, relax, and learn more about cannabis and cannabis consumption. (Photo by Cannaclusive on Flickr)

Consumption lounges would help revitalize the Canadian tourism industry

Another reason to allow consumption spaces is the impact on tourism. Tourism plays an important role in the Canadian economy, generating revenue of nearly $105 billion in 2019. Approximately 10% of Canadian jobs support the industry in some way. But the industry has suffered greatly since the pandemic began and current spending isn’t even close to pre-COVID levels, as travel restrictions for both domestic and international visitors have led to a very slow recovery. By allowing consumption spaces, Canada would open up new opportunities for cannabis tourism and help the industry recover more quickly.

A graph showing tourism spending from 2017 to 2022
Tourism spending has not returned to pre-pandemic levels (Source: Statistics Canada)

Currently, companies are allowed to promote tourism to an extent, but consumers typically can’t smoke in most indoor spaces, including their hotel rooms, and in some locales, they are also disallowed from public consumption entirely. 

By changing the rules around cannabis consumption, the cannabis tourism industry could include all kinds of experiences, like cannabis-friendly hotel and Airbnb packages, retail lounges, spas, tours, trade shows, and events like festivals and comedy shows. 

People consume cannabis in outdoor consumption lounges
People enjoy consuming cannabis in many types of settings and venues. (Photo by Cannaclusive on Flickr)

Opening up consumption lounges would also revitalize areas with many dispensaries competing for consumer dollars.  Cannabis shops in saturated markets like Toronto’s Queen West could change their business model by converting to a consumption space,  pivoting to tourism-focused retail, and by finding ways to collaborate with nearby shops, rather than competing with them. 

Consumption lounge options: smoking, vaping, or edibles?

Arguments can be made for every level of access in recreational consumption lounges, including allowing smoking indoors. Most locales have laws preventing indoor smoking in public places. Cannabis is often unfortunately lumped in with tobacco in these laws, despite evidence that cannabis smoke is far less harmful than tobacco smoke. In the Netherlands, a country known for its successful integration of consumption lounges into everyday life, a smoking ban prevents people from smoking cannabis mixed with tobacco in coffeeshops, but people are allowed to smoke pure cannabis flower.

But even if smoking is disallowed, vaporizing flower and concentrates is a healthier option that doesn’t put employees and bystanders at the same level of risk. Unlike second-hand smoke, second-hand vapour doesn’t contain the tar or other carcinogens produced by burning plant material and paper, making it safer for people nearby. Allowing people to vaporize dried flower and concentrates in indoor could be a better option than allowing smoking indoors, especially for recreational spaces that aren’t necessarily for patients who prefer to combust their medicine.

A person adds cannabis oil to their beverage in a glass, common in consumption lounges; a lemon wedge is added for flavour.
Vaporizing cannabis and ingesting oils can be a healthier way to consume cannabis indoors. (Photo by Cannaclusive on Flickr)

But if there is not room for lounges that allow vaporization, certainly regulators can allow consumption lounges that offer infused foods and beverages. In Canada, consumption trends are moving away from flower, and toward products like edibles, beverages, and concentrates.  In 2021, fewer people bought flower than in the year before (down 6%), while the number of people who purchased beverages and edibles increased significantly (up 10% and 4%, respectively).

A graph showing the types of products consumed, by percent, from 2020 to 2021
The number of consumers consuming infused edibles and beverages is growing. (Source: Health Canada)

One critique of lounges for edibles and beverages is the waiting time required for the onset of effects. Nano-infused beverages allow for quick onset and duration of effects, avoiding the need to wait for hours while your edibles kick in.  And as consumers become more familiar with the dosing and effects of edibles, restaurants that serve infused food made on site can also be considered for regulatory inclusion. As the cannabis consumer matures, so too will the need for spaces that cater to different types of consumers, and different types of consumption. 

Consumption Lounges are an important part of the overall cannabis industry, and regulations around them must be enacted sooner, rather than later.

Tabitha Fritz

Tabitha Fritz

1 Comment

  1. Randy McBride

    you need a share button on this site, FYI I would have shared.


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