Cannabis consumption lounges can really only be found in select big city neighbourhoods. So even though many may not have access to them, it’s still necessary to understand their importance to the Canadian cannabis landscape.
In Toronto, a handful of cannabis lounges are spread across the city. These lounges act as hubs for cannabis enthusiasts and advocates, as well as a reliable place to medicate out of sight, away from unfriendly eyes. In some ways, they’re the backbone of a thriving cannabis culture—and they’re under threat.
The Ontario Government’s Stance on Marijuana Smoke Lounges
Initially, when the Ontario government rolled out legalization plans, it only allowed cannabis consumption in private homes. And since landlords can prohibit using cannabis in their units, it would leave huge slices of the population with nowhere to consume cannabis.
But the proposed legislation would ban all smoke lounges as well. Many opened in the first place so that people could have a place to smoke or vape cannabis somewhere safe. In January, the Ontario government announced that it’s considering granting licences to some lounges, but whether that will actually happen remains unclear.
Marijuana legalization will no doubt increase the demand for smoke lounges. For anybody to understand why they’re so important to the cannabis community, all they need to do is experience one for themselves.
Marijuana Lounge Is a Kensington Market Institution
Though a few cities in Ontario have smoke lounges, perhaps the longest-lasting and most well-known ones in the province are both in Toronto. One of them, Hotbox Cafe, has been the jewel in the weird crown of Kensington Market longer than anybody cares to remember. It’s the longest-running cannabis lounge in Canada.
Inside, the cafe looks like a run-of-the-mill head shop. But through a door into the back, the space expands into an amalgamation of all your childhood friends’ coolest basements. It’s colourful, inviting and dotted with communal tables. There are board games, a pool table, snacks and just about anything you’d want to occupy yourself with for a couple of hours.
If the basement vibe isn’t your thing, you can step out on the patio, and enjoy a large two-level space on a sunny day. Hotbox Cafe also puts on events like video-game tournaments, stand-up comedy shows and movie nights.
For Anais Lumar, Hotbox Cafe was like an introduction into cannabis. He came to Toronto for school and wandered into Hotbox Cafe with his friends. “I smoked cannabis in high school a little, but I didn’t know much about it,” he says.
Anais took a liking to the fact that at Hotbox Café he could smoke cannabis in public, without fear of police or any other authority breaking up the session. He came with some regularity for a few years. Work and other commitments got in the way, but he credits Hotbox Cafe with introducing him to some of the people who would help shape his positive relationship with cannabis.
Vapor Central Brings Torontonians Together
Kensington Market is exactly the kind of neighbourhood that would have a smoke lounge. It’s a cool, hipster-ish part of the city. On Yonge Street, in the heart of downtown Toronto, the other oldest and most well-known lounge in the country has a completely different vibe.
If Hotbox Cafe is the cool hangout basement, Vapor Lounge’s central location, Vapor Central, is the cannabis bar. The music is loud and barstools extend down a long bar, but instead of drinks, crystal-clear bongs and dab rigs are available for rent.
At the far end of the room is a stage for weekly comedy nights, karaoke or anything else that may happen at Vapor Central. The crowd usually consists of a lot of regulars, people who have memberships who go to hang out and medicate a few times a week.
Chris O’Reilly has lived in Toronto his entire life and made plenty of stops at Vapor Central, though he’s never been a member. For him and his friends, it’s a place close to home where they could hang out. Living in downtown Toronto doesn’t offer many opportunities to consume cannabis discreetly. Plus, there are other benefits, according to Chris. “Their bongs are always clean, and mine never was,” he says.
Eventually, Chris started going to events at Vapor Central. When cannabis activist Marc Emery was released from prison in 2014, Chris met him there. That meeting ended up leading Chris to a job in the cannabis industry. “Can’t imagine how I would have ended up where I am now if Vapor Central didn’t exist,” he says.
What Happens if Ontario Bans Cannabis Lounges?
There are more cannabis lounges in Toronto than just Hotbox Cafe and Vapor Central. Other lounges have operated as de facto speakeasies for years, and even under a ban, these places probably won’t stop existing all together.
What Ontario stands to lose by banning marijuana lounges is a key part of integrating cannabis into the community and normalizing the plant. These are places where people can gather to relax and unwind with no judgment. Whether for recreational or medical reasons, a cannabis consumer can go to a lounge to be around entirely like-minded people.
As much as this is true in Toronto, it’s imperative that other parts of the province experience it, too. Toronto has a lively and robust cannabis industry and a well-established marijuana scene. There are plenty of resources for people who want to consume cannabis. That’s not true in most of the province. Places that lack strong cannabis-related infrastructure could benefit the most from cannabis consumption lounges, where people of all different experiences and levels come together to share and educate.
Photo credit: WeedPornDaily