Consumption lounges: Manitoba re-opening round two cannabis consultations, part two

As noted in our first article in this series, in December 2021 Manitoba Justice Minister Cameron Friesen expressed that the Manitoba Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority’s (LGCA) intention is to conduct follow-up consultations on consumption lounges in “early 2022.” The LGCA did not provide any further details regarding this second round of consultations and as a result, we are left to speculate about what these consultations will look like, who the LGCA will look to hear from and what they will aim to achieve.

In summarizing the first round of consultations, the LGCA made a couple of key comments regarding future consultation processes. They were:

to follow up with health stakeholders after COVID-19 pandemic; and

to balance polarized public opinions on cannabis consumption spaces.

Drawing upon this information, we expect that the LGCA will want to continue to consult the various stakeholder groups which were originally canvassed in the first round of consultations and also potentially extend the consultations to other related stakeholder groups, such as the health stakeholders.

In terms of what these consultations will look like as the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly new variants continue to persist across the country, we anticipate that if the consultations are not delayed by the pandemic, this second round will at least in part mirror the original consultations and involve some kind of online format. However, as the LGCA looks to properly address the second point above and foster a discourse between those with polarized opinions, we expect that they will seek to incorporate some form of in-person consultation.

Taking into consideration the findings from the 2020/2021 Annual Report, it is likely that the key points of discussion in this next round of consultation will be surrounding those issues raised by stakeholders such as the increased need for enforcement and public education, consumer demand, licensing structure and opportunities for small businesses.

At this stage, however, we remain in a waiting game, and it will be imperative to monitor the developments that arise as this consultation process begins to take shape and the conversations amongst regulators and stakeholders commence.

Looking at other jurisdictions

As we start to imagine what consumption lounges may look like in Manitoba or elsewhere in Canada, it is worth briefly considering the cannabis consumption landscape in the Netherlands and Las Vegas.

Since 1976, the Netherlands has tolerated cannabis “coffee shops” where consumers are able to purchase and consume both edible and combustible onsite, and consumption lounges in Canada may mirror some features of these spaces. However, it is important to note that although personal use is decriminalized in the country, cannabis is still considered a controlled substance and is illegal under Dutch law. Given this distinction, Canadian consumption space will likely differ from the quasi-legal “coffee shops” found in cities like The Hague or Amsterdam and will most likely be subject to more strict regulatory and licensing regimes with restrictions on issues such as what products can be purchased, who can consume and the location of the lounge.

One does not have to look any further than Las Vegas to find an example of a highly regulated cannabis consumption lounge industry. In June 2021 the Nevada State Assembly passed Assembly Bill 341 which gave the state Cannabis Compliance Board the authority to license and regulate cannabis consumption lounges. The scope of Bill 341 is beyond what can be covered in this article, but needless to say the bill provides for a comprehensive regulatory regime which touches on areas such as quality control (of both product and premises), a list of permissible and impermissible activities, a variety of licensing, reporting and record keeping requirements as well as an enforcement regime.

Even closer to home, there have been a few developments which may provide additional insight into what a legal consumption space may look like. In Ontario, a few cannabis retailers have sought out ways to distinguish themselves from their competitors by providing informal spaces such as picnic tables outside their stores for their customers to consume their purchases together. Although these remain ad hoc consumption spaces with a number of liability concerns, they may be indicative of how retailers and business owners will adapt in the event consumption lounges become legalized.

Conclusions

In summary, although the LGCA has yet to release a plan around the forth coming consultation process, at a minimum we know that it will be used to obtain further insight into the perspective of stakeholders in the province, balance polarized opinions and inform future regulatory regimes and policies surrounding cannabis consumption lounges. At this stage, we remain hopeful that further clarity on the future of consumption lounges in Canada, and specifically in Manitoba, is coming on the horizon. 

Looking to countries like the Netherlands and jurisdictions like Las Vegas, as well as considering the informal progress seen in other provinces, like Ontario, we can begin to envision what form the legal landscape for consumption spaces may take in Canada.

It will be interesting to monitor these consultations and watch what direction Manitoba takes in these discussions. We will continue to monitor any developments in Manitoba and keep you informed of the potential opportunities or barriers to consumption lounges as they arise.

This is the second of a two-part series, originally published in The Lawyer's Daily.  Read the first article: Consumption lounges: Manitoba reopening round two cannabis consultations, part one here.

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