[Windsor Star – Dalson Chen] The people behind the new vaping lounge in downtown Windsor say it’s not just about providing a place for medical marijuana users to toke up — it’s about clearing the air when it comes to pot.
“We have medical users who are being discriminated against, who have stigmas lingering over them,” said Jon Liedtke, co-owner of Higher Limitsat 251 Ouellette Ave. “It’s not necessary. Quite frankly, it’s inappropriate in the year 2016 … It’s easy to joke about cannabis. But would you joke about someone who needs to use insulin?”
The 6,000-square-foot lounge — formerly Venue Music Hall — is billed as Windsor’s first cannabis vapour lounge and the largest of its kind in Canada.
Liedtke said that since the business quietly opened last week, it’s been averaging 110 visitors a day.
“It was just about finding the right time and place,” said Liedtke — part of an ownership group that includes [his father John Liedtke].
But what exactly goes on at a vaping lounge? Liedtke takes pains to point out what doesn’t: No marijuana is dispensed, sold, bought, traded or otherwise exchanged.
There’s also no alcohol, no tobacco, no one under the age of 18, and no drugs — besides cannabis.
Legally speaking, Higher Limits is simply a place for medical marijuana licence holders to bring and consume their own medicine.
The grey area is that the owners and staff of Higher Limits can’t ask patrons for proof of a marijuana licence. Customers have no obligation to share their private medical information with the lounge.
“We’re in as much compliance as we can be,” said Liedtke, himself a medical marijuana licence holder.
“This is about creating a cannabis community centre … in anticipation of what Justin Trudeau has signalled.”
“We tell people: it’s use-at-your-own-risk. Consuming cannabis in here is no different than consuming it on the street, in a park, or in your own home. If the police want to come in, the doors are open. We’re in no position to stop them.”
Along with providing comfortable couches, the lounge sells a wide range of pot paraphernalia: bongs, vaporizers, pipes, grinders, and more.
Reams of cannabis literature are scattered about the establishment — as well as multiple copies of the Dr. Seuss storybook Green Eggs and Ham.
Liedtke said none of the retail offerings at Higher Limits are beyond what might be found at your typical head shop.
However, Windsor police remind the public that possession of marijuana for recreational use is still illegal.
“We respect the rights of individuals who are legally permitted to consume marijuana for medical purposes,” said police spokesman Const. Andrew Drouillard. “At this point, we’re handling (Higher Limits) on a complaint basis.”
Drouillard agreed that the Windsor police drugs and guns unit is mainly concerned with trafficking. “If we receive information or complaints from the community, they will be investigated accordingly. If charges are warranted, they will be laid.”
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit said it has conducted “complete inspections” of the premises, and found them to be “operating in compliance with all public health related regulations.”
That includes the Smoke Free Ontario Act, the Electronic Cigarettes Act, and food regulations related to the various munchies on sale — chips, pop and candy bars.
A city bylaw enforcement official stopped by the lounge on Wednesday to tell the owners they need a food store licence to sell the snacks.
But Craig Robertson, supervisor of the city’s licensing department, admitted that Windsor currently has “no licensing category or municipal regulations that would govern vaping lounges.”
Robertson said he’ll be interested to see what comes of Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin‘s questions to administration about regulating such businesses.
Meanwhile, the people of Higher Limits are doing their best to keep their business above board. Liedtke said they’ve retained Alan Adams — a retired Windsor police officer with three decades of experience — as a security consultant, and two of their six staff members have security licences.
The rules are posted throughout the premises. Among them: “Absolutely no mooching, buying or selling!”
“This is a bring-your-own-cannabis establishment,” Liedtke emphasized. “If we see (trafficking) occurring, the first time will mean removal from site. The second time, I’m going to refer that person to Windsor police.”
Liedtke said he went to city hall to obtain the food store licence soon after the bylaw official’s visit.
But Liedtke also said Higher Limits is ready for whatever legal situations may come. “If they want to put a special focus on us … we are OK with that,” he said. “It’s no problem. We’re quite content to bring ourselves into compliance.”
Higher Limits apothecary and lounge (251 Ouellette Ave.) is open Monday to Thursday from noon to 11 p.m., Friday to Sunday from noon to midnight. 18 and older only. Visit higherlimits.buzz for more information. Call 519-819-5725.
The lounge celebrates its opening on Friday with a live performance by comedians Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice of Kenny vs Spenny fame. Doors open 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39 in advance or $49 at the door. VIP tickets including meet n’ greet are $99. Order online via ourevent.ca.