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Let lounges sell pot like bars sell alcohol, forum told

Group has already designed training course for ‘bud tenders’

By Mike Smee, CBC News

Some marijuana advocates want cannabis bars legalized in Toronto. Currently, seven lounges exist for medical marijuana users, but it's strictly BYOB - "bring your own bud." (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)
Some marijuana advocates want cannabis bars legalized in Toronto. Currently, seven lounges exist for medical marijuana users, but it’s strictly BYOB – “bring your own bud.” (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Marijuana bars that sell pot rather than alcohol should be licensed to operate in Toronto, a city councillor’s forum on marijuana distribution heard Monday.

Coun. Jim Karygiannis, who represents Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt, called the meeting to give frustrated medical marijuana distributors and their supporters a chance to air their thoughts, after controversial police raids in May led to hundreds of charges against owners and employees at 43 Toronto marijuana dispensaries.

A handful of marijuana lounges operate legally in Toronto, but they’re only allowed to cater to people who are users of medical marijuana and who get their product through the mail from government-authorized distributors. The lounges cannot sell pot to their patrons for use on the premises.

That’s something that Abi Hod would like to see change. She’s the owner of the Hotbox Lounge in Kensington Market and the director of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association. She said the lounges should also be allowed to sell marijuana to customers.

“A very reasonable proposition”

“Though we strongly recommend dispensaries as a fantastic avenue of distribution both socially and economically, they should not be the only option available to the public,” she told the forum. “Our lounges have proven for almost 15 years to be responsible, socially caring environments to their customers and communities.

“By regulating and licensing our existing cannabis lounges, the City of Toronto will be solving the issue of public consumption & street distribution of small amounts of cannabis, in our streets and public spaces.”

Another speaker at the forum, Ian Dawkins, the executive director of the Cannabis Growers of Canada, said later that marijuana bars are “a very reasonable proposition.”

Lounge operators “are perfectly capable of following the same kinds of rules that bars and restaurants currently follow, in order to serve cannabis on-site safely. Numerous other cities around the world have cannabis ‘coffee shops’ or ‘vapour lounges’ that operate in a socially responsible manner, and we see no reason Canada’s cities can’t be the same way.”

Training course for “bud tenders”

He said his organization has already developed a special training program for prospective “bud tenders” that’s similar to the Smart Serve program that bar staff need to complete.

Another speaker at the forum, CFBA member Marko Ivancicevic, said the market alone —not city hall — should regulate the number of marijuana lounges that are allowed to operate in the city.

“Is there a cap on the amount of bars that can be licensed?” he asked Karygiannis. “In terms of an actual number, no. The market will determine how many survive.”

The federal government has promised to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use in 2017. But some dispensaries are already selling marijuana from storefront operations, mainly to medicinal users.

Marijuana dispensaries angry about charges

The proliferation of dispensaries led to a Toronto police crackdown in May. Ninety people face trafficking-related charges, and about 270 kilograms of marijuana were seized.

Many dispensary owners were outraged at the charges, but at a meeting of the city’s municipal licensing and standards committee in June, they weren’t given the opportunity to speak.

The committee will debate a report from city staff on regulating marijuana distribution at its meeting in October.

Article source CBC News

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