The Role of Cannabis Lounges in Fostering Community

April 17, 2023 · RollingStone

AS CANNABIS BECOMES normalized and less stigmatized, we’re seeing more Americans turning to cannabis and away from alcohol. The U.S. has been alcohol-centric for too long and many people are searching for alternatives that facilitate socializing without alcohol.

With about four in ten adults living unpartnered, there is reason to believe more people are searching for spaces to gather with friends. Individuals who socialize frequently during the week might prefer to limit their alcohol intake to avoid excessive consumption or the unpleasant effects of hangovers. There is a recent trend emerging with bars offering non-alcoholic cocktails, also known as mocktails, to cater to this demand. A dearth of venues that do not revolve around alcohol consumption is evident. Cannabis lounges will offer a new alternative.

Cannabis lounges possess a distinctive opportunity to offer a fresh, unconventional environment for socializing, fostering community and facilitating connections with new people. Cannabis also attracts people living less traditional lives who perhaps find it challenging to meet new people in traditional spaces. As society becomes increasingly mobile, many people find themselves relocating and searching for places to meet new people. Although bars have traditionally occupied this space, an increasing number of younger individuals are actively seeking alternatives. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, “60 percent of adults in the United States report that they drink alcohol. That’s down from 65 percent of adults in 2019. The poll also revealed lower alcohol consumption among younger generations. 70 percent of people aged  35 to 54 years old reported that they drink alcohol, only 60 percent of people aged 18 to 34 reported the same. There is a demand for spaces to socialize without alcohol.

Cannabis lounges can fill at least part of this need. There are, however, challenges to opening cannabis lounges. First, there is limited access to capital with cannabis still federally illegal. The cannabis industry operates under incredibly strict state regulations. We’re witnessing the first lounges open in Las Vegas, a city that recently awarded twenty consumption lounge licenses. As a retail license holder myself, I have been submitting public comments advocating guidelines to help make cannabis lounges a sustainable business model. I believe they have the ability to add value to local communities. Some states are proposing guidelines that prohibit the sale of food and beverage, guidelines so restrictive it’s difficult to see a viable business model. We hope to see these regulations change as cannabis lounges become more normalized.

One reason we are seeing lounges open slower is the lack of access to capital. This is a challenging time in the cannabis industry. There are significant costs involved in building a cannabis lounge, especially in cities like Denver with strict air quality guidelines. To build one properly, businesses will likely need casino-grade air filters.

I recently attended the cannabis industry conferences International Cannabis Business Conference and Spannabis in Barcelona. I had the opportunity to attend after-parties held at private cannabis consumption lounges, commonly referred to as social clubs, which mandate membership for entry. My colleagues and I found it challenging to spend extended periods of time in these venues due to the excessive smoke, resulting in eye irritation and a sore throat. I struggled to stay thirty minutes and definitely did not find it an enjoyable space to spend time, highlighting the need for the industry to invest in efficient HVAC systems. With a background in insurance, I was also concerned about the health of employees working in that environment and exposed to so much smoke.

The social clubs in Barcelona, targeting a traditional cannabis consumer demographic, is definitely one type of lounge we can expect to see in the U.S. I hope we also see cannabis lounges evolve, as cannabis becomes normalized, offering an experience that is not necessarily cannabis-centered. Cannabis can be part of the experience, or not. One example is a (non-cannabis) cafe I visited in Glasgow, Scotland, I visited last year: Pink Peacock — a cafe and infoshop dedicated to creating community for the queer and Jewish communities. They provide Hebrew and Yiddish language exchange, coffee, and various events. I can imagine starting my day with a CBG matcha breve at a place like this, or a THC beverage on a weekend evening. Perhaps other people will enjoy a sports bar-style cannabis consumption lounge to watch a football game with friends. Others will enjoy an upscale restaurant or gastropub. We need creative innovators and community builders in this space; we should invest in people with a wide variety of ideas.

To accommodate diverse preferences and tastes, it’s essential to have a range of cannabis-friendly venues available, and policies that allow these businesses to thrive. (Full Story)

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