As cities and townships across Michigan adjust to newly legal adult-use cannabis, one looming issue on many minds has been the establishment of consumption lounges—businesses where consumers can sit down, socialize, and pass around a vape pen without getting any sidelong glances.
State regulations give clear guidelines for selling marijuana, but the regulation of businesses allowing on-site consumption is, much like with liquor licenses, left almost entirely up local governments.
Consumption lounges have caused controversy in other legal states, and it's mostly been a wait-and-see game for cannabis operators in Michigan—with one exception. Entrepreneur Anna Germaine has opened what's billed as the state's first cannabis consumption lounge in Genessee County, just north of Flint.
"People need places to go where they don't have to be around alcohol. The bar crowd can behave like children; in this world, people are mellow."Lindsey Price, The Rec Center manager
"We're very much into the medicinal aspects [of cannabis]," says Rec Center manager Lindsey Price, "but we also want people to be able to just hang out and enjoy smoking with friends. In Genesee County, how many liquor licenses do we have here? A lot. I want to have that kind of environment where you can have fun without the alcohol."
On a visit last month, a pair of young Boomers told me they far preferred The Rec Center's environment to that of a bar, explaining that they stopped drinking nearly a decade ago and don't enjoy spending time around alcohol consumption.
"We're hoping to set a precedent," added Price. "People need places to go where they don't have to be around alcohol. The bar crowd can behave like children; in this world, people are mellow and not acting a fool."
The Rec Center, which does not sell marijuana, is zoned and operates as an entertainment facility. Customers can rent board games, table games, video games, and other forms of entertainment by the hour, and nonalcoholic beverages and packaged snacks are available for purchase. Table games and other amenities include a ping pong table, a pool table, a small stage for open mic nights, several gaming stations, a recently acquired shuffleboard table, and—perhaps most notable for children of the 80s—a claw arcade machine. Although currently awaiting a new key set, plans for the claw "Weed Machine" are to hold Rec Center t-shirts, edibles, silicone bongs, prerolled joints, and other cannabis-themed goodies.
As fortune would have it, a newly opened restaurant adjacent to The Rec Center happily serves takeout orders for Rec Center customers who want to bring meals back to the lounge to enjoy over a game.
Customers are encouraged to bring your own bud (BYOB), although The Rec Center does offer a small amount of cannabis for free with the rental of a game—roughly the equivalent of a joint per hourly rental. The offer takes advantage of Michigan's cannabis gifting law, which allows for small quantities of marijuana to be given as a gift but not sold, and means visitors don't have to swing by a dispensary beforehand if all they're looking for is a quick round of ping pong.
Price says she and Germaine are working on implementing a monthly membership option, which would waive hourly game rental prices, particularly for those who regularly bring their own cannabis.
In addition to standard memberships and drop-ins, The Rec Center also intends to focus on events, both hosting its own cannabis-related events and acting as a venue for private parties. The lounge recently hosted a cannabis tasting event and a Super Bowl gathering, and there are plans for painting and crafting nights, poker tournaments, and open mic nights.
'No Hassle From the Law'
While there have been a few consumption lounges in Michigan, they've always been for medical patients only—until now. The Rec Club is the first consumption lounge open to all adults in the state. But despite the novelty of social cannabis consumption, the Rec Club's first few weeks of operation have been surprisingly hassle-free.
"We've had no hassle from the law," said Price, noting that someone from the township came down when the lounge first opened, mistaking the operation for a dispensary, but was satisfied once they saw the business was operating as an entertainment space, per its zoning.
Jeremy, a customer at The Rec Center who gave only his first name, said the atmosphere around marijuana has been a lot calmer since prohibition has lifted. "Genessee County is already wiping out my marijuana possession crimes," he said, citing an infractions six years ago for possessing a small amount of cannabis. He was notified by the county that records of this crime were in the process of being expunged, he said.
North Dort Highway, on which The Rec Center is located, acquired the nickname "The Green Mile" before the last wave of dispensary closures undertaken by Gov. Rick Snyder's administration. Now, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration looking more favorably upon cannabis and the expungement of related crimes, it seems this area of Flint may have the chance to regain its nickname.
This article first appeared in Leafly.
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