Windsor Star: Changes to Smoke-Free Ontario Act could doom Windsor cannabis vaping lounge

Windsor Star – Dalson Chen – March 11, 2016

There could be big trouble in the future for Windsor’s first cannabis vaping lounge — and it’s coming direct from the provincial government.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced Thursday it will propose legislative changes meant to “strengthen (Ontario) smoking laws to better protect people from second-hand smoke, whether from a tobacco product or medical marijuana.”

Among the suggested revisions to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act: prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes and smoking and vaping of medical marijuana in all enclosed public places, enclosed workplaces, and “other specified outdoor areas.”

That means it would become illegal for medical marijuana users to smoke or vape at downtown Windsor’s Higher Limits.

The lounge at 251 Ouellette Ave. opened less than two months ago for the explicit purpose of offering medical marijuana licence holders a safe place to partake of their prescribed medication.

Jon Liedtke, co-owner of Higher Limits, said he was disappointed by how the ministry’s announcement conflates medical marijuana with tobacco products.

“I think that’s lack of education. I think that the people who are writing the laws don’t know anything about the substance,” Liedtke said. “It’s shameful and reprehensible, especially in 2016.”

Liedtke pointed out that tobacco products are not allowed at Higher Limits, and the establishment’s vaporizers are approved by Health Canada as medical equipment.

“They can’t tell people where and when to take medication,” Liedtke said. “You have your medical rights.”

Inside Higher Limits cannabis vaping lounge in downtown Windsor. DALSON CHEN / WINDSOR STAR

As an example, Liedtke said one of his regular patrons lives in public housing. “Under the proposed changes, he wouldn’t be able to take his medical marijuana at home. He wouldn’t be able to take it at my place of business. He wouldn’t be able to take it at a patio, on a sidewalk, in a park. Where is he supposed to consume his medication?”

The changes would put even further restrictions on e-cigarettes. The list of places where the devices can’t be sold would be expanded, rules would be set on how e-cigarettes can be displayed and advertised, and there would be no testing of e-cigarettes where they’re sold.

But Don Carom, owner of e-cigarette store VapeVine at 2814 Howard Ave., said he was expecting such measures. He’s been preparing his business for it: VapeVine has been doing online sales across Canada since 2014. “I’m not really worried,” he said.

Carom said he considers VapeVine to be a retail shop rather than a lounge, and his main concern is that the proposed changes would make it harder for walk-in customers to make informed choices about their purchases.

“We believe there should be an exemption for vape stores,” Carom said.

A date has yet to be set for when the proposed changes will be brought before the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

A poster at Higher Limits cannabis vaping lounge in downtown Windsor. DALSON CHEN / WINDSOR STAR
A poster at Higher Limits cannabis vaping lounge in downtown Windsor. DALSON CHEN / WINDSOR STAR

In the meantime, Liedtke said Higher Limits remains open and he’ll be doing what he can to keep it that way. He’s already reached out to local MPPs and legal counsel.

“We have no intention of going away,” he said. “When we opened up, we were told by people in the industry to get ready — There’s always going to be a fight. But we certainly didn’t expect that within two months it would be the province actively seeking to prohibit our entire business model.”


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