Canada: Pot Entrepreneurs Deride, Dismiss Strict Calgary Cannabis Bylaws

Photo Credit: Jim Wells

Among the stacks of glass bongs and marijuana imagery, there’s not a whiff of pot smoke.

But there is a beer garden just steps away at the Calgary Cannabis and Hemp Expo.

The situation is perhaps symbolic of what a bylaw will uphold once the drug is legalized, as city council approved rules last week that will ban most public consumption of marijuana.

Some of the budding cannabis entrepreneurs at the expo ridicule the bylaw as hypocritical and of dubious effectiveness that will do little to slow the mainstreaming of marijuana.

“You might as well do the same thing for alcohol and tobacco because they’re less safe, ” said Kristen Gail, who was helping showcase a colourful array of cannabis smoking paraphernalia at the weekend show at Stampede Park’s BMO Centre.

Gail noted that people like her, with a medical licence to consume cannabis, will be exempt from the ban and that others might go the same route to legally smoke in public.

“People are going to get around bylaws,” she said.

Olympic gold medallist snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, probably the best-known exhibitor, called the restriction and one keeping marijuana dispensaries 150 metres from schools and emergency shelters a hangover from Reefer Madness-style demonization.

As he spoke, parents pushed strollers past the expo entrance seeking the Calgary Baby and Tot Show being held in a nearby hall.

“They’ve been fed propaganda on the war on drugs for the past 40 years … it instills a stigma,” said Rebagliati, who’s promoting a line of cannabis products dubbed Ross’ Gold.

“But it’s not going to stop people, there’s nothing you can do to curb that.”

As time passes and legal cannabis is increasingly normalized, laws will loosen, said Rebagliati.

“This is growing pains,” he said.

Neither Rebagliati, whose company is applying for 37 retail locations in Alberta “like Starbucks,” or other exhibitors said tight retail and consumption restrictions would affect their business ambitions here.

Alejandro Arce, whose company Getgreenline provides logistical support for cannabis retailers, views the bylaw as a compromise amid a population where many remain leery about ending pot prohibition.

“They need to be eased into it rather than punched in the face,” said Arce. He’s from Vancouver, where over-the-counter pot sales have been commonplace for years. “It’s part of the process and it’ll be relaxed over time.”

Regardless of local laws, he said, his company will be busy working with cannabis retailers throughout Alberta and B.C.

Expo organizers say the fact they needed to move the show from the smaller Big Four Building shows the industry’s momentum.

City council members who passed the bylaw by a count of 10-4 last Thursday note it’s similar to those adopted by U.S. cities in states where the drug has been legalized.

Even so, the Calgary version reflects a conservative outlook in a city where marijuana is prevalent but kept more under wraps, said Lindsay Labelle, who’s selling hydraulic presses that produce more refined cannabis products.

“I’m not even so much targeting Alberta, it’s all B.C. and Ontario — it’s just a different life,” said Lethbridge resident Labelle.

“When I show these presses at shows in Vancouver, everyone knows what they are — here, people have to ask questions.”

The city, he said, should allow designated pot consumption areas or lounges because “you’ve got to treat it like alcohol, although it’s a lot more healthy than alcohol.”