British Columbia Considers MJ Consumption Spaces, Citizens and Businesses Weigh In

It’s been a question since recreational cannabis legalization first reached the lips of legislators.

If cannabis is legal, but consumers are only allowed to smoke in private residences, where does that leave tourists, or local cannabis consumers enjoying a night out, to reap the benefits of a legal market? Considering the amount of public spaces to consume alcohol, it seems like a severe limitation that folks can’t similarly enjoy cannabis in a public, social setting.

States around the U.S. have only just started to move forward with public consumption lounges over the last few years, but is the country’s northern neighbor Canada ready to make the plunge? The jury’s out on the country as a whole, but a new government report indicates that the province British Columbia is considering the leap.

It’s worth noting that British Columbian policy around public consumption is already a bit more liberal than that of many U.S. states. According to the province site, adults over the age of 19 are “generally allowed” to smoke or vape cannabis in public spaces that allow tobacco smoking and vaping. Of course, these spaces are distinct from a cannabis consumption space, typically used to refer to a business like a lounge, special event or establishment that allows for cannabis use, and potentially sales, on site.

In spring 2022, the province asked citizens for feedback on allowing cannabis consumption spaces through a demographically and geographically representative telephone survey, online survey and written submissions. British Columbia officials not only sought to understand citizen stances on consumption spaces but also to what extent people agreed or disagreed with proposed policy principles that could potentially guide regulations within these spaces.

Among 730 random phone survey respondents, 61% supported consumption spaces, and 35% had used cannabis at least once in the past year. However, only 34% of online respondents voiced their support, which the government said could partially be due to the specific research method and potential for self-selection bias. There were 15,362 total online respondents, and 305 had used cannabis in the past year.

Most of those who use cannabis also supported consumption spaces, along with cannabis retailers, producers and industry associations who provided written submissions, the report notes. The majority of cannabis users also said they would visit a cannabis consumption space to purchase and use cannabis, showing the most interest in cannabis cafés and lounges.

Those opposed generally did not use cannabis or were from a public health and safety organization or local government who provided written submissions. Non-users also indicated they would be likely to avoid events and businesses allowing cannabis consumption. The main concerns were the potential for spaces to serve both alcohol and cannabis and the potential increased risk of impaired driving.

Post-legalization studies in Canada have found time and time again that, at least with the country’s current laws, there hasn’t been a spike in stoned driving, including one just after the country’s 2018 legalization, another the following year and another from 2021, concluding that there was no evidence of significant changes surrounding cannabis legalization and weekly counts of emergency department visits. Of the U.S. states that have allowed cannabis consumption spaces, or promote special events like cannabis-infused dinners, there are generally specific bans on allowing alcohol and cannabis to be served at the same location.

The report cites the 2021 BC Cannabis Use Survey, which found an estimated 1.4 million people living in British Columbia reported using cannabis at least once in the past year. Therefore, it states there may be at least 750,000 people in the province who are interested in visiting a cannabis consumption space “at least once.”

“Health and safety are our utmost priorities as we consider how provincial cannabis policies could evolve,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, in a news release. “This report provides valuable insights into people in B.C.’s perspectives on cannabis and will help guide our work to support a strong, diverse and safe legal cannabis sector across the Province.”

One reason Canada has yet to implement legal consumption spaces has to do with its smoking bylaws. The bylaws were put into place for the sake of public health and safety, though research shows that cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic.

While the report provides further insight around the wants, and concerns, of B.C. residents, the government has yet to make further decisions around cannabis consumption spaces and how they would be regulated. 

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