Legal Canadian pot may lure Metro Detroiters to Windsor
Windsor — Canada is moving to legalize recreational marijuana use next year and authorities here say it could mean an influx of Metro Detroiters craving cannabis.
However, experts said that depends on how Canadian laws on the drug are set up and whether Michigan’s legislators and municipal governments continue relaxing marijuana rules.
“Being neighboring jurisdictions, we’ve always taken advantage of the other jurisdiction for one thing or another,” Windsor Police Chief Al Frederick said. “Canadians have shopped in the United States, and because we had a younger drinking age, Americans took advantage of that.
“If we look at those trends, I would certainly expect an uptick in Americans coming to Canada, based on past history and practice, to take advantage of the marijuana laws.”
As in Michigan, the use of medical marijuana is already legal in Canada, including Windsor, its city on the Detroit River. There’s one big difference: Medical marijuana is regulated by Canada’s federal government; in Michigan, it’s regulated by the state.
In Detroit, the city enacted laws last year that require medical marijuana dispensaries to be licensed, and regulate where they can set up shop. Several communities, including Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Lansing and Ypsilanti, have decriminalized marijuana possession.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has yet to legalize recreational use of the drug, even though several states have.
One entrepreneur hoping legal cannabis in Canada will lure more Americans across the border is Jon Liedtke, co-owner of Higher Limits, a medical marijuana lounge on Ouellette near University Avenue in downtown Windsor.
“I hope it does, but I don’t think it will,” Liedtke said, since Metro Detroiters would have to go through Canadian and American customs to visit Windsor and return home.
Liedtke, 27, describes the business as a place where medical marijuana users can consume the drug in a social setting. The club has sitting areas with large sofas around coffee tables, a pool table as well as foosball and an area with a video game console. It also regularly offers entertainment, including live music and stand-up comedy.
He says his 6,000-square-foot establishment, which opened in January, is the largest of its kind in Canada, the first to open south of London, Ontario, and the first in Windsor.
Higher Limits charges patrons $5 for admission, which gives them access to the club’s vaporizers and bongs. The club’s customers have to bring their own cannabis. The club also sells pipes, bongs and other medical marijuana-related accessories.
Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana was one of the campaign promises Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new leader, made in the country’s general election last fall.
Last month, Canada’s health minister, Jane Philpott, said the country’s Liberal government will introduce legislation to decriminalize and regulate recreational marijuana next spring. Philpott made the remarks during a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The session’s topic: drug problems around the world.
Philpott said the law will keep the drug away from children and keep criminals from profiting from its sale.
Economists predict the move could generate $4 billion to $8 billion in annual revenues for the country’s federal and provincial governments.
But that’s “only if all the underground sales are effectively curtailed,” according to a Canadian report on the fiscal impacts of cannabis legalization published earlier this year. “That’s on the order of 0.25 percent of GDP, no barn-burner.”
Frederick said American cities with legalized marijuana, such as Denver, have seen an influx of tourists, and he expects something similar in Canada.
One of the big challenges Canadian police expect to face, he said, is determining whether someone who comes into contact with police is under the drug’s influence.
“We don’t have a tool to detect impairment by marijuana,” he said. “It doesn’t exist yet. There’s a safety risk that will be created by the legalization of the drug.”
Wendy Atkin, a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency, said the agency can’t speculate on how a change in marijuana laws might affect border crossings.
In the meantime, the agency will continue to enforce Canadian laws, she said.
Like Atkin, Kris Grogan, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Detroit office, said he thinks it’s too early to tell what kind of impact legalizing marijuana in Canada will have on traffic in the tunnel under the Detroit River or the Ambassador Bridge spanning it.
U.S. cities along the Canadian border that have legalized the drug’s use don’t seem to offer any insight on what will happen if and when Canada legalizes cannabis, either.
Jason Givens, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Seattle office, said traffic into the state of Washington hasn’t changed much since it legalized marijuana in 2014.
Liedtke said other reasons Metro Detroiters may remain on the U.S. side of the border to get cannabis are that access to medical marijuana in the Motor City is easier than in Canada and many Michigan communities have already decriminalized possession of the drug.
But legalizing cannabis may still attract Americans to Windsor for another reason, Liedtke said.
“We may not be getting tourists coming over to buy a joint and smoke it,” he said. “But we could get some if they can see the cannabis culture here is different.”
Jonah Komon, 22, of Windsor, one of Higher Limits’ customers, said he thinks the city may see an influx of Americans when marijuana is legalized.
“I definitely feel it’s a possibility,” he said at the club. “And sure, it would be great for tourism.
“But it depends on whether the government allows people from the United States to purchase cannabis. There has to be some sort of regulatory system in place and safe zones where people can buy and access it.”