It’s been well over a year since Ashley Abraham began putting the wheels in motion to open a marijuana lounge in Victoria.
The young entrepreneur had noticed a growing number of people were unable to consume cannabis in their homes due to condo boards or landlords, pushing them to use the drug elsewhere.
But now Abraham has found a space for pot lovers aged 19 and older to bring their weed and socialize for a $5 fee. She didn’t consult with city officials about her business plans, but maintains she’s not breaking any laws.
Prior to opening The Green Ceiling on Quadra Street, Abraham met with a constitutional lawyer and a police officer. Since then, she’s dropped off a business licence application to the city and isn’t worried the business will get shut down.
“I’d like to work with them (the city) and be a positive part of this community. I feel like I’m putting something very positive forward here,” said Abraham.
“There is no law in Canada against the consumption of cannabis. That’s what I’m allowing to do here.”
Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps is troubled that some businesses are opening and operating without a licence while the bulk of entrepreneurs abide by the city’s rules. When she ran for mayor, Helps never thought she’d be in the business of asking staff to develop regulations around marijuana.
Now the city is in the midst of developing a regulatory framework for the more than 30 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Victoria. The framework will come to council for consideration in early May. The vapour lounge is the first Helps has heard of.
“This is not an issue that should be handled by the city, this is an issue that should be handled by the federal government,” said Helps, adding the vapour lounge could be ordered to shut down if it’s not in compliance with city regulations.
“It’s not legal to smoke cigarettes inside. If someone was in a store and they lit up a cigarette, it’s unthinkable.”
Long-time marijuana advocate Ted Smith hopes to see more vapour lounges pop up in Victoria and believes it could help drive tourism as the federal government moves towards legalizing the drug.
Health Minister Jane Philpott recently announced Canada will introduce legislation next spring to spark the process of legalizing and regulating marijuana. The announcement came on the same day as dozens of people gathered in Centennial Square for the annual 4-20 pot rally.
Typically the event is a protest, but the government’s announcement marked the end of a revolution for Smith. The former head of the Victoria Cannabis Buyer’s Club was hopeful one day the drug would be legalized, but he wasn’t sure if it would ever happen during his lifetime. It’s an idea he’s still getting used to.
“It’s a beautiful feeling to think that we’re not going to be arrested for simply smoking a joint. It’s a dream come true,” said Smith. “To have this announcement made on April 20 is a day that I will never forget. It’s a turning point in history. This is phenomenal.”
Smith will be keeping a close eye on what exactly the regulations will entail. Fears are already brewing that the drug will be over regulated, he said, making it hard for small scale producers to enter the market. Some people are also worried medical marijuana dispensaries could get shut down once the provincial government steps in and decides where the drug will be made available.
Despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, Smith plans to continue celebrating 4-20, but he noted the event will likely be moved into a more controlled environment.
“I’d like to have it at Royal Athletic Park where we could ID everyone going in and have lots of vendors, booths and bands,” he said. “It will change from a protest to a celebration.”