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B.C. opens up cannabis patios, sparking tourism hopes

Provincial changes to allow more cannabis consumption spaces leave B.C. stores looking forward to industry growth
Cannabis Cottage will be making some improvements to their patio area, now that the provincial government has green-lit cannabis consumption in picnic areas.

A major change for the cannabis industry was quietly announced by the provincial government last month, a move which Thompson-Okanagan retailers are celebrating.

B.C. now allows the promotion of cannabis-friendly spaces and consumption of cannabis on public patios, which means licensees have been given the green light to promote a place to consume cannabis or to spend time after consuming cannabis.

In the bulletin, the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch said they are “making gradual changes to improve hospitality and tourism opportunities for the cannabis industry.”

Penticton Cannabis Cottage owner Mariana Wolff said the bulletin gives them some leeway.

“It doesn't really have too much in terms of detail of what is permitted and what isn't permitted, which I actually appreciate. Because in this industry, it's very, very heavily regulated already. We have so many other roles that are in writing and very strict. So this is nice. It feels like we're getting a little bit more rope,” she said.

“But essentially, any currently licensed retailers that are retailing cannabis can now have a consumption patio space. It can be anywhere that respects the current smoking bylaws. So anywhere somebody could already consume a cigarette, you can now consume cannabis as well.”

Unity Cannabis, which has locations in Penticton, Williams Lake, Merritt and Lac La Hache, is also welcoming the change.

“I think it's a very positive step for the industry as a whole just being able to consume outside, and wherever you can,” said Dylan Sellars, general manager.

“This will kind of help bring that to light a bit more, and show how many people actually use cannabis and use it for not only recreational purposes, but for medical purposes.

“I think it'll allow us to also do a lot more events, obviously get our brands out there, with the brands that have a story to tell, and are proud of what they're doing.”

Stores have hope that lingering stigma around cannabis use will vaporize.

“Up until this point, you've been having to hide where you've been smoking, just smoking in your yard and it's been very limited and I think that kind of equates to some of the rep people equate cannabis to,” Sellars said.

Wolff said she hopes as people start seeing how these consumption spaces can work, it may change their perspective.

“People will start to see that you can consume cannabis in a safe space. And it's also a really good eye-opener for the fact that it's an alternative to people that don't want to consume alcohol while they're having their social time. After work on weekends, and at gatherings, it's another substance that you can still get your fun buzz out of, but you don't have to deal with the hangover that follows typically with alcohol some of the time.”

She added she is glad to see B.C. moving towards this step.

“There's a big space for breweries and wineries, and cannabis is just the natural next adult substance in the tourism world,” Wolff said.

“This is what the industry really needs to mature and start getting to the next step. I think right now it still feels like it's a little bit kind of chokehold by some of the regulations. It doesn't have the room for growth right now.”

Both stores are looking forward to hosting more events now that their spaces are approved for consumption, and are planning a big celebration for 4/20 — April 20, a traditionally celebrated day for cannabis enthusiasts.

While Unity has yet to have an outdoor patio space themselves, Sellars said they will be utilizing their smaller space in the parking lot to host events.

Cannabis Cottage is looking to host a “huge party” on 4/20 with the launch of their patio space from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“There's going to be a whole bunch of different vendors and it's an opportunity to meet and greet with some of the craft growers and brands that are in our area. We really like to feature the local people that are producing some of that bud that some of us have come to love,” Wolff said, adding that there will also be a drop-in art workshop, goodies to purchase and features from local beverage and baked goods companies.

Cannabis consumption is still not allowed inside cannabis stores, and licensees must ensure any cannabis consumption near their stores don't end up within their establishment.