Cannabis-friendly patio space also to be available—for those 19-plus—at upcoming Craft Beer Festival in Toronto
Owner of Toronto’s HotBox Café, Abi Roach, delighted her followers on social media last week by dropping a hint about the return of POTio, the outdoor consumption space attached to her cafe.
The buzz was confirmed Tuesday with the announcement that POTio would, indeed, return, just in time for summer… although this time with a new iteration.
Through the HotBox Cafe, Roach has been working with the city’s bylaw inspectors to solve the problems around public consumption of cannabis. It’s an issue she has been involved with for more than two decades and one that only got murkier with the federal legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada last October.
Since it opened in 2003, the café has been regarded as a safe place for citizens to consume cannabis, vaping indoors or smoking on the back patio. The space functions similarly to a bar patio, swelling with activity in nicer weather and keeping adult activities off the street.
Only after cannabis became legal in Canada did smoking or vaping it fall under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, abruptly putting those POTio activities offside.
Fighting the good fight
“We’ve been fighting changes with the Smoke-free Ontario Act forever, trying to explain to the government that cannabis vaporizers are not e-cigarettes, they’re not tobacco—totally different,” Roach tells The GrowthOp. While patrons of her café made the new rules work, mainly by smoking on the street instead of the rear patio, she zeroed in on a new mission: get the POTio back.
“What it comes down to,” Roach says, explaining her work-around, “is that we have to get rid of all our food and drink.” She has concerns about not being able to provide even a cooler with a few bottles of water, but says that all food service must be moved to a neighbouring business in the spirit of compliance. Customers can place food and drink orders using a POS (point of sale) system and those orders will be delivered to them at the café.
Roach is something of an expert when it comes to working alongside city councillors and bylaw inspectors to keep her business thriving despite cannabis having been a prohibited substance for most of the HotBox Cafe’s life. She says she has an eye for finding potential fixes and expanding on them to make them work for the whole community, without breaking laws.
Though POTio in Toronto’s Kensington Market, an area recognized as a national historic site, became a smoke- and vape-free zone under the new act, Roach didn’t give up on the city.
Having safe places to smoke or vape cannabis—where they are off the streets and away from parks—makes as much sense as having bars designated for drinking, but a regulated system for cannabis lounges doesn’t currently exist. Until it is, Roach may have to continue pushing the boundaries from within the framework to develop new rules around cannabis consumption, and public health and safety.
“One big thing about doing [POTio] is our social responsibility. I actually care about my customers’ health, and I actually care about their lives, and I care that they’re safe. I want to give them safer consumption methods I want to help them understand how to use them. We want them to make good decisions,” Roach says.
Something new for the HotBox this year is the addition of a portable POTio that will make its debut at the Craft Beer Festival at Ontario Place, June 21 to 23.
Organizers of the festival, having worked with Roach before, approached her with the idea of creating a cannabis-friendly area carved out of the festival’s designated smoking section. It’s fully compliant with Ontario smoking laws and discourages festival-goers from mixing weed and beer.
The Detonate Group designed the POTio space, which will be open to everyone attending the 19-plus event, but, like the Kensington Market café, participants must bring their own bud and leave their beer at the door. Beyond offering comfortable outdoor cafe seating, Roach says there will be a small retail space and knowledgeable staff on hand to educate anyone who is curious about cannabis.
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