Are You Ready for Cannabis Legalization?

Recreational marijuana use will soon be legal in Canada. This has brought on a lot of speculation about how that’s going to impact dining experiences, what kind of burden it will place on servers, and what new doors it will open for foodservice businesses.

Restaurants Canada has been consulting with all levels of government across the country to ensure that foodservice customers, workers and operators will have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, and what can and cannot happen with cannabis as of Oct. 17 and beyond.

For everyone wondering what they actually need to know to get ready, here is a walkthrough of what’s going to change for the foodservice sector.

SPOILER ALERT: Not much.

(RELATED: Click here to watch Shanna Munro, Restaurants Canada President and CEO, on Breakfast Television in Toronto, taking questions about this with Chad Finkelstein, a business lawyer from Dale & Lessmann LLP.)

What’s changing for patrons? 

The federal government is legalizing recreational cannabis use on Oct. 17, but that won’t mean that everyone in Canada will be able to legally consume the drug wherever they like. Customers won’t suddenly be able to walk into a bar or restaurant and get high. First of all, edible cannabis products will not be legalized for recreational use for at least another year. And in many cases, patrons won’t even be able to legally smoke a joint on the sidewalk outside the entrance of an establishment, or anywhere nearby.

While nothing in the Cannabis Act regulates where marijuana can be consumed, the federal legislation leaves it up to the provinces and territories, and their municipalities, to set their own restrictions. As they do with tobacco, most jurisdictions are placing limits on smoking cannabis near building entrances and places where children gather.

Some jurisdictions are deciding to tighten up their smoking rules in order to minimize public consumption of cannabis as much as possible. Halifax, for instance, recently amended its nuisance bylaw (By-Law N-300) to ban all smoking on public property — including streets and sidewalks — except within specially designated smoking areas. Out of concern that certain businesses might be disadvantaged if not near a designated smoking area, Restaurants Canada met with municipal officials to ensure that the bylaw would not create an uneven playing field. They provided assurances that any bar or restaurant operator may request a designated smoking area, provided that they meet the specified clearance to entrances, open windows and air intakes.

With the recent change of governments in Ontario and Quebec, the former is becoming much more relaxed about who can sell cannabis and where it can be consumed, while the latter is on the verge of going from being one of the most permissive jurisdictions to one of the most restrictive.

While Restaurants Canada will continue to monitor and report on regulatory developments as they occur, for the most part, dining experiences are expected to remain unchanged by the legalization of recreational cannabis use.

What’s changing for servers?

Canadian courts have long held establishments that serve liquor for profit liable for deaths, injuries and damages resulting from the actions of patrons who they have served while impaired. Some cases have already found that commercial establishments must be vigilant for both alcohol and other intoxicants, such as cannabis, when monitoring patrons. Legalization of recreational marijuana use might lead to greater scrutiny around responsible beverage service and could bring on a new wave of cases going to court, relating to incidents arising from the co-use of alcohol and cannabis.

Combining alcohol with cannabis use greatly increases level of impairment, compared to consuming either substance alone. A patron who has consumed marijuana might not be able to consume as many standard drinks before becoming intoxicated as a patron who did not consume cannabis. Serving alcohol to someone who is already high increases the risk of injury, death or damages from accidents.

Did you know: The percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs (40%) now actually exceeds the numbers who test positive for alcohol (33%)?

Most provinces already require that anyone serving alcohol complete a responsible service training program to ensure that they understand their legal responsibilities and learn techniques to prevent over-service.

These programs already cover spotting signs of intoxication from any substance, and responsibly and professionally dealing with patrons who come to an establishment already impaired. So updating the existing education around that would just be a formality to specifically address marijuana, since servers aren’t going to be allowed to serve edibles or cannabis-infused products anytime soon.

Restaurants Canada has been asking for these programs to be updated, and will share news of any changes as soon as they are implemented.

What’s changing for business owners and operators?

As far as day-to-day operations are concerned, very little will change. Legalization of recreational cannabis use will not give employees the right to freely consume marijuana in the workplace or show up already high, the same way they don’t currently have free rein to drink alcohol or report to work already drunk. But employers should review and amend existing workplace policies and procedures once the Cannabis Act comes into force, and remove any references to cannabis usage as an illegal activity. They should also make sure their policies distinguish between recreational and medical use of marijuana, as their duty to accommodate the latter may be triggered under provincial or federal human rights legislation.

In terms of new opportunities that businesses can start to explore, even before edible sales are on the table, some Canadian provinces are implementing a regulatory framework that permits private enterprises to obtain a license to sell cannabis products from retail outlets. We have already seen Second Cup taking advantage of this by announcing plans to convert certain locations in those provinces to cannabis retail outlets. Chains with struggling units might similarly see a way to build on their brand recognition and trusted track record to obtain cannabis retail licenses from provincial regulators.

Regulators might choose to ban businesses with liquor licenses from also selling cannabis or allowing their patrons to consume pot on their premises, as we have seen in other jurisdictions, like Colorado. Restaurants Canada will provide updates on any such decisions as governments continue to develop legislation.

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