Cannabis was once seen as highly taboo; a drug for the rebellious, anti-social and sometimes delinquent.
Films such as Reefer Madness hysterically trumpeted the "dangers of cannabis", and many politicians had to either hide their hash habits or claim that they "didn't inhale."
Users have historically had to keep their hash habits to themselves, smoking before they go out or after they arrive home from a night out. Not to mention the legal status of the drug, which has created a fear of being seen in public with the plant.
Though if there's one telltale sign that marijuana stigmatization is finally coming to an end, it would have to be the emergence of cannabis lounges. But what exactly are they?
Cannabis lounges are a place where fans of hash, ganja, pot weed and bud can go to indulge in their favourite activity: consuming marijuana.
And not only that, but they can consume the plant in a number of ways, publicly. Typically seating between 40-60 people, cannabis lounges may become the bars and taverns of the future, as people put down their pint glasses in exchange for a puff of green.
There are currently nine cannabis lounges in the US, seven of which exist in San Francisco, with the other two in Denver and Oakland.
Lounging Around: The Biggest Cannabis Lounge
Cannabis lounges began when marijuana became recreationally legal in the US in 2018, with the first lounge launched being the Barbary Coast Collective in San Francisco.
Barbary Coast initially began as a medicinal marijuana dispensary in 2013, before creating their cannabis lounge across the street five years later.
The Barbary Coast Lounge is adorned in dark red leather seats in booths and bejeweled chandeliers hanging overhead. Lounge-goers have access to flower, pre-rolls, premium vape cartridges, concentrates, edibles, topicals and accessories.
Not to be confused with the "coffee-shops" of Amsterdam, cannabis lounges cannot sell food, and they also can't sell alcohol. The lounge seats 40 people and you aren't allowed to BYO weed?—similar to a bar and alcohol. Also, patrons are told to stay for only 30 minutes, enough time to get high and hit the road.
Cannabis lounges are unique in that you can't actually smoke in public in the states??—although all this has changed now that lounges are around.
Cannabis lounges?—and some dispensaries?—are the only places that smokers can go (over the age of 21) to get high at a public venue.
Not just a lounge
While the Barbary Coast may indeed be the best known cannabis lounge, there's plenty more where that came from. For example in Denver?—which recently saw the opening of 'The Coffee Joint.' In 2016, Denver passed an initiative which gave approval for certain businesses to apply for cannabis consumption licenses. One year later, the Coffee Joint opened up shop.
The Coffee Joint isn't smoker-friendly however, as the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act only allows for electronic vaporisation and edibles consumption indoors. You make smoke in a private outdoor area, however unfortunately the Coffee Joint doesn't have one. Sorry smokers.
The Coffee Joint's owner Rita Tsalyuk describes the venue as "Starbucks on Steroids" and it is also home to yoga sessions, movie nights and video game events. And while you can't buy cannabis from the venue itself, it is adjacent to a dispensary.
Then you have another San Franciscan lounge?—Urban Pharm, which is a dispensary mixed with a cannabis consumption lounge. The venue boasts highly passionate staff who recommend strains based on the consumer's needs. Urban Pharm also hosts comedy nights, which must certainly be an easy crowd given the copious amounts of marijuana flowing.
"Every day, we get a new wave of customers that have been in a dispensary and I feel like now that the kind of taboo is being lifted, you know there's a lot of opportunity."
– Andrew Garcia of Urban Pharm SF.
Lastly on the list we have Magnolia Wellness, which functions as a dispensary, lounge and sometimes even a classroom. Based in Oakland, the venue is home to vape lounges and dab bars, as well as classes to educate users on different ways to consume cannabis.
Examples of some of Magnolia's classes include how to microdose, as well as specific classes for veterans and the elderly. Magnolia even employs a registered nurse in case of emergencies.
And while these venues often resemble that of a vintage bar, they shouldn't be confused with premises that serve alcohol. The intoxication provided by cannabis is notably different to that of alcohol, and comes with almost none of the health effects.
In Michigan, a cannabis lounge called 'The Rec Centre' follows this ethos, and wishes to represent a healthier alternative to drinking.
"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."
And while SF holds the reins to the cannabis lounge kingdom, that may be about to change.
The County of Los Angeles has been taking applications for social spaces for cannabis since the beginning of 2018. Some areas of LA, such as West Hollywood have updated regulations to allow for the public consumption of cannabis in cafes and lounges.
At the end of last year it was revealed that LA had granted 16 licenses for cannabis cafes. Half of these cafe's are just for edibles, the other half for smoking and vaping.
New Jersey's also passed a bill recently which allows for BYO cannabis social lounges.
Though there are concerns. Officials in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada have all rejected cannabis lounges on the grounds of health and safety. Issues of overly intoxicated individuals or clouds of smoke billowing from the windows have given rise to concerns for many legislators who have long sought to clean up such venues.
The case of Nevada was quite interesting in that the Las Vegas City Council had recently signed off on several venues to allow the consumption of cannabis socially. This was all overturned however when Assembly Bill 533 passed the Assembly on May 30 by a vote of 39-1. The Bill will put a two-year stop on any licenses for cannabis lounges, leaving many devastated.
For years legislators have made pushes to prevent smoking inside venues due to safety concerns, and now the public will have to fight to bring the smoke back in.
A Cloudy Future
Cannabis lounges are the greatest sign of the changing cultural sentiment towards the plant. As cannabis rises in popularity, so too does the demand for such lounges, as we're now seeing across the US. Lounges give users the freedom to publicly ingest a substance which has long been illegal and frowned upon, which can only do wonders for the stigma surrounding cannabis.
While the residents of Las Vegas will have to wait before they can spark up on a cannabis couch, other states are eyeing the field and seeing what will work for them. According to an article in Forbes:
"Late last year, a group of state assemblymen and county commissioners from Nevada toured San Francisco's cafes and lounges to see how they're run. They are determined to push through legislation to allow cannabis cafes in their own state.
Massachusetts' state government is partnering with cities interested in allowing places for "social consumption" of cannabis to create rules and study the impact of the businesses."
It's clear the demand for cannabis lounges is high, and changes are that those lucky enough to live in a state where lounges are legal are probably pretty high too.