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Cannabis bar faces possible closure amidst legalization

The Puffin Hut on Water Street in St. John’s.
The Puffin Hut on Water Street in St. John’s. - Juanita Mercer

Downtown St. John’s cannabis bar The Puffin Hut could be facing closure, according to owner Brian Walsh.

Open since Nov. 2017, the Water Street establishment is described as a members-only lounge where medical cannabis users can consume their own cannabis in a social setting.

In a post on The Puffin Hut’s Facebook page, Walsh said he does not regret opening the province’s “first and potentially last canna bar”, despite the “very sudden and unexpected news” that Service NL “wishes to shut us down”.

He said he will fight to keep the lounge open “for as long as we can.”

In an e-mailed statement to The Telegram, Service NL said The Puffin Hut “has not been pre-ordered to close”.

The statement explained an environmental health officer was in contact with the owner on Oct. 17 to inform of changes to the Smoke-Free Environment Act (SFEA), 2005, that came into effect with cannabis legalization that same day, and how those changes would affect The Puffin Hut.

A letter explaining the changes was also hand-delivered to the establishment on Oct. 17.

The Telegram obtained a copy of the letter.

It states that to “smoke” or “smoking” now includes cannabis in addition to tobacco product. The letter listed the places where the Act states people cannot smoke – including a food premises licensed under the Food Premises Act.

“Please be advised, these new legislative changes may affect your business operations,” the letter reads.

“Would you please contact Service NL as soon as possible to discuss the operations of your business and the status of your Food Establishment License?”

Service NL explained that because it was not technically illegal to smoke cannabis in a public place under the SFEA until Oct. 17, no enforcement action could occur.

According to a petition initiated by The Puffin Hut, the establishment claims Service NL informed of its intentions to fine the lounge daily to force it to close.

“We’re fighting to be given an exemption from Service NL,” the petition, titled “Allow cannabis bars to operate legally under The Smoke Free Environment Act” states.

The petition also argues many people cannot smoke cannabis in their homes because of lease agreements or because they have children.

It calls government’s amendment to the SFEA to treat cannabis the same as tobacco a violation of medical users’ human rights.

At press time, the petition had about 1,000 signatures.

Walsh said he’s also reached out to his MHA, Gerry Rogers. He said her office is actively fighting for The Puffin Hut’s members.

Meanwhile, Walsh is penning an open letter to government officials to be released on Monday, Oct. 22 and said he will answer any further questions at that time.

With files from David Maher.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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