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Legal Cannabis Has Some Canadian Bars & Restaurants Freaked Out Over Social Liability

Legal Cannabis Raises Social Liability Concerns
PHOTO Ralf Steinberger


Legal Cannabis Has Some Canadian Bars & Restaurants Freaked Out Over Social Liability

Mixing booze and buds can be complicated.

Although alcohol and cannabis are considered, in a lot of ways, competitors for the almighty inebriation dollar, the average consumer often sees the two as complementary substances that, when consumed in unison, can help take their overworked brains, broken hearts and aging bodies out of the game for a few hours a night.

To some of these people, mixing cannabis and booze in moderation is an almost poetic display of the perfect buzz, as the combination has the ability to provide them with the introspection that often comes with being high while also maintaining the half-cocked, “let’s get it on” attitude commonly associated with hitting the bottle. But this social chemistry experiment can sometimes become volatile. Mixing booze and weed has been known to cause some adverse reactions in those less experienced in this barroom balancing act.

In Canada, which is set to officially launch its recreational pot market later this year, the unpredictability of cannabis-fried patrons who also relish in cocktail hour, has bars and restaurants concerned about liability issues, according to the Financial Post.

On one hand, these establishments, much like other businesses, are hoping to cash in on legal weed. Not only are eateries and watering holes expected to serve more customers with the coming of cannabis tourism, but they also think they’ll see more local, munchie-laden customers, as well. All of this means more money and, well, the service industry is eager to get its hands on that.

But on the other hand, food and booze slingers are worried about being held legally responsible if a cannabis-impaired patron causes “property damage,” “person injury” or “even death” after being served too many alcoholic beverages. This issue is troubling, says Toronto attorney Chad Finkelstein, because wait staff may not be able to tell whether a customer is high before serving them.

Social liability is nothing new. Bar and restaurants in a multitude of jurisdictions have a legal responsibility not to serve intoxicated customers. In some cases, the backlash from an incident brought about by serving someone too much booze can come back on the employees.

“The person who sold the alcohol can be liable for damages if personal or property damage is caused, or if the person dies while intoxicated either by suicide or by accident,” the article reads.

Most bartenders, waiters and waitress are fully capable of judging when a customer has had too much to drink, so these types of unsavory situations are relatively easy to avoid. Drunkenness is transparent. And service industry employees are required to attend classes to learn how to gauge these conditions. But now that weed is being tossed into the mix, some are worried that dangerous levels of impairment will become more difficult to assess.

In the United States, where marijuana is legal for recreational use in a handful of states, this does not appear to be a major issue. California, which launched its recreational pot market in January, puts most of the liability on the patron. A “social host is not liable for the acts of a patron to whom he or she served alcohol,” according to the law. However, serving alcohol to a “common drunkard” or “obviously intoxicated person” can result in a service employee being slapped with misdemeanor charges.

The law was not amended to include marijuana upon the passing of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64). In other words, there is no social host liability for weed. Patrons who use cannabis before drinking at a bar or restaurant are responsible for their own actions. So, unless their impairment from the combination of the two substances makes them “obviously intoxicated” a bartender shouldn’t be at risk for legal woes. If a case were brought to court, however, the state’s personal responsibility statute would likely be instituted to protect the accused employee.

That part of the law reads: “Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”

So if a stoned adult screws the pooch in California, no matter how tragic the outcome the heat is on them. In a case involving minors, courts could find liability through negligence. So check those IDs!

Canada’s provincial Liquor License Act is set up the same way. Employees are typically in the clear unless they intentionally serve an intoxicated person. Yet there could be a learning curve with respect to legal cannabis. But if it looks intoxicated, it is probably intoxicated. While a server may not be able to detect if a person has consumed marijuana, taken a handful of prescription pills, snorted cocaine or shot up heroin in the parking lot prior to entering the establishment, signs of increased impairment will become visible over time. At that point, whether it is after the first drink or the sixth, it is the employee’s responsibility to stop serving the customer. Simple as that.

Service industry professionals agree. Shanna Munro, president, and CEO of Restaurants Canada, the largest association representing the country’s foodservice trade, says no significant policy changes are necessary to phase in marijuana. The group plans to work with local regulators to establish updated educational materials for service industry workers.

“We look forward to helping regulators build on the groundwork we’ve already laid surrounding duty of care with alcohol consumption,” she told the FP. “Governments at every level can leverage the work we’ve been doing, consulting with our members, to ensure their experiences are understood and respected.”

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