Edmonton as a cannabis tourist destination? City could be Canadian leader, group suggests

Businesses may be able to serve cannabis-infused dishes and beverages in the future if the province amends the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act and the City of Edmonton amends its zoning bylaw. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Businesses may be able to serve cannabis-infused dishes and beverages in the future if the province amends the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act and the City of Edmonton amends its zoning bylaw. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Cannabis cafés, lounges and restaurants serving cannabis-infused dishes and desserts could become commonplace in Edmonton if advocates succeed in convincing governments to allow it.

Nathan Mison, president of Diplomat Consulting, a communications and strategy group, believes Edmonton has the potential to become a Canadian flagship destination for cannabis tourism.

Edmonton's young population, innovative business sector and vibrant festival, arts and culture scenes, will help create a new opportunity for the hospitality industry, the group suggests.

"What we're talking about is ... infused made-to-order drinks from a 'mocktailer' who can actually infuse cannabis like they do with alcohol or a chef who can actually use cannabis as a food ingredient to create a non-inebriated experience."

Mison noted that several U.S. states, like California and New York, allow cannabis cafes and that Canada could follow suit with Edmonton leading the way.

"We would love it if actually we could focus the world's eyes on Edmonton as being a worldwide leader on municipal zoning and the opportunity for cannabis consumption."

Since Canada legalized cannabis in October 2018, products have been sold in retail stores. Provinces and territories regulate the sale, possession and consumption of cannabis.

Under the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act and Regulation, cannabis cafés and lounges are currently not allowed, an AGLC spokesperson confirmed to CBC News.

The provincial legislation would have to be amended to allow people to consume cannabis at eating and drinking establishments.

In anticipation of that happening, Mison suggests the city could start looking at its zoning bylaw to allow establishments to serve edibles.

"What we're asking the city to do is consider that opportunity to create zoning and a business licence class," he said. "We would love to see it in the same vein as restaurants."

Roundtable on cannabis consumption

Mison was one of a dozen participants at a roundtable last October, set up to explore potential opportunities for the cannabis industry in Edmonton.

The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Association, NAIT, Explore Edmonton and a number of cannabis retailers attended the roundtable, hosted by Ward papastew Coun. Michael Janz.

Dan St. Pierre, Explore Edmonton's director of strategic communications and partnerships, said there's still a lot of work to be done on policy and regulatory frameworks,

"With that said, as a city and a tourist destination, we need to be thinking differently and looking at all options to attract visitors and expand economic development in our city," St. Pierre said in an email to CBC News last week.

"We need to be forward-thinking and open-minded."

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Janz said several business owners along Whyte Avenue and in Old Strathcona are interested in diversifying entertainment and tourism options.

"One of the ideas that's come up is the idea of cannabis cafes," he said.

Janz plans to introduce the idea when council's urban planning committee reviews the latest update on the city's zoning bylaw renewal, this spring.

"We know there's interest in seeing heightened flexibility for small business owners to be able to innovate different ideas or incubate different opportunities."

Janz and Mison said they envision spas, medical centres and sports clinics providing therapeutic services using cannabis and CBD oil.

Edibles 'unpredictable'

For now, the move to zone for extended cannabis uses is unlikely to get unanimous support from city council.

Coun. Karen Principe said she believes the majority of potential users don't understand their own tolerance for the substance.

"I think cannabis use can be unpredictable, especially for people that have not used it before," she said in an interview last week.

"Say they go to a restaurant, consume cannabis products and attempt to drive home. That could be a public safety concern."

Legislative changes needed

The federal Cannabis Act has been under review since last October, a necessary step since the legislation went into effect more than four years ago.

The Government of Canada's website says the minister of health will table a report no later than 18 months after the start of the review — meaning, it could be spring 2024 before the results are public.

The Alberta government supports the federal review of the Cannabis Act, said Charlotte Taillon, senior press secretary for the Treasury Board and Finance Ministry.

Taillon said the province isn't currently planning changes to the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act but that it does regular reviews of the provincial legislation to look at potential amendments.

Mison is hoping for some traction from the city by the spring, when the national Grow-up Conference and Expo is held at the Edmonton Convention Centre May 28 to 30.