In order for the responsible adult-use cannabis industry to continue to thrive and expand throughout the United States, licensed social consumption lounges must become as prevalent as modern retail dispensaries. The future of these bar- and brasserie-like spaces for interactive cannabis use is promising in certain areas: the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Massachusetts, Alaska and, most recently, Colorado, where a new law permitting social consumption lounges will take effect in 2020. Other states where recreational cannabis is legal, including Washington and Oregon, are still behind the curve. What’s the point of allowing recreational cannabis if you don’t provide responsible adults with a safe, friendly venue where they may consume openly?
The potential benefits of licensed social consumption lounges are immense, but let’s begin with a few of the obvious: curbing the black market, regulating public consumption, ensuring safety, and boosting the economy.
To briefly summarize these points, expanding access to regulated spaces for adults to consume cannabis encourages people to purchase products from licensed dispensaries for enjoyment in sanctioned venues, as opposed to buying from unlicensed dealers and consuming in clandestine places like parks or parking lots. This is especially helpful in cities where tourists, who may be staying in smoke-free hotels, are prominent cannabis customers. Social consumption lounges welcome visitors and locals alike into safe, protected hubs to enjoy both new and familiar products while bonding with others. Social consumption lounges are poised to be another cannabis tourism attraction and, as a result, revenue stream for their respective municipalities. In addition, regulated spaces are crucial for many medical marijuana patients, who may live in apartments or government-funded housing that ban federally illegal drugs.
Social consumption lounges have the potential to be the safest places to consume and experiment with dosing. For instance, Magnolia in Oakland, California, adapted the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s intoxication guidelines so budtenders know when to cut off service. The department also provides operating procedures to manage any medical emergencies that may occur.
Other potential benefits of social consumption lounges are less tangible, but no less important: de-stigmatization, social connection, industry partnerships, and product innovation.
Throughout history, drinking and smoking have been two of the most popular social activities for adults, but thanks to Twentieth Century propaganda, cannabis was villainized. Alcohol, on the other hand, was championed post-Prohibition, leading to a flourishing legal industry. Licensed social consumption lounges with comfortable décor and a friendly, pub-like ambiance could catapult cannabis into the mainstream and attract new, canna-curious users who may visit on their own or with more experienced friends.
A great example of such a place already exists in San Francisco’s Moe Greens, an upscale cannabis lounge that attracts and unites all demographics with cozy booths and a wide variety of products. Lounges like Moe Greens create a relaxing and fun new way to bond with friends and other like-minded individuals.
As social consumption lounges develop, there may be opportunities to partner and collaborate with other industries and markets for more mass appeal and an overall trend toward normalization when federal legalization comes to cannabis. These possibilities include partnering with restaurants or food trucks to provide on-site dining options, coordinating trivia nights, and offering live music, among other things.
Because social consumption lounges are designed to be comfortable hangouts where folks linger—much like craft cocktail bars have become—brands may be inspired to develop more innovative products, especially new infused beverages, the ultimate social consumption product that can serve as a welcoming alcohol alternative.
Widespread adult-use legalization allowing for the sale and private consumption of cannabis has been a great first step, but for the market and the acceptance of cannabis to be solidified, legal social consumption lounges need to be the new norm.
Erik Knutson is chief executive officer at Keef Brands, which he co-founded with his brothers in 2010. He also serves as chief executive officer and chairman at CanCore Concepts Inc. and is a director at SeroVita Holding Corp. Knutson has a decade of experience operating a wide variety of enterprises within the legal cannabis markets.