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No lounging allowed: WA ban on cannabis clubs continues

Couple vaping in a lounge. (Getty Images)
Couple vaping in a lounge. (Getty Images)
Taryn Mickelson EVERCANNABIS Correspondent
Part of the appeal of marijuana is that it can be a very social product. But apart from someone’s house or certain private locations, there aren’t a lot of legal spots where people can gather to smoke in Washington. If you want to consume elsewhere, you may have to visit Alaska, Oregon or Colorado, where certain types of licensed cannabis clubs and lounges are permitted. On Dec. 19, Alaska was the first state to allow retailers to permit on-site consumption. Customers can buy a product with up to 10 mg of THC and enjoy it right there in a shop’s smoking lounge. In Oregon, members-only clubs like Northwest Cannabis Club in Portland allow adults to enter a private club where they can consume any legal product they bring themselves, such as joints, vape pens or edibles. The club also sells snacks and drinks, and has paraphernalia and related accessories available to rent and use, along with entertainment and gaming. In Denver, The Coffee Joint was the first location in the city to allow onsite consumption in a public setting. Entry requires paying a small $5 fee. Then guests can vape, enjoy cannabis concentrates or consume edibles socially (no smoking or open flames allowed due to Colorado’s Clean Air Act). But in Washington, consuming outside of private property is illegal and could lead to citations such as smoking in public. This has caused some consumers to advocate for changes to the law – not just for more access but potential business opportunities, such as opening a lounge. Devin Ryan, Northwest regional marketing manager for WeedMaps and a member of The Cannabis Alliance, would like to see lounges permitted. “I wanted to be involved in the most pivotal cultural time involving marijuana`s booming industry, and to maybe someday have my own marijuana lounge,” he said. The Alliance, a statewide advocacy and lobbying organization for cannabis businesses, has been working towards approval of legally-sanctioned places people can smoke or use cannabis outside of homes. WeedMaps, a digital community where consumers can find and review products and retailers, would also like to see more access. “A core pillar of our company is consumption, along with the culture, the community and the cause,” Ryan said. Bailey Hirschburg, a lobbyist and cannabis advocate, worked on legislation in Olympia this session to focus on social consumption of marijuana. It addressed the idea of marijuana lounges, backed up by the need for the public to have a legal social area to consume. The bill proposed allowing licensed retailers to apply for and receive an endorsement for a lounge as long as certain requirements were met. “Marijuana lounges could benefit business and state regulators if the activities involving public consumption were made more transparent and more accountable for the consumers,” Hirschburg said. The bill also addressed a potential oversupply issue within the growing community by allowing farms to sell useable marijuana products directly to consumers rather than only through retailers. The format would be much like that of a winery or brewery where a tasting room is permitted. He said this concept could have huge economic benefits for cannabis farms. Although many in the cannabis industry liked the bill’s concept, Hirschburg said several lawmakers seemed uninterested when the bill was actually presented in committee, so it didn’t advance any further. This lack of enthusiasm seemed odd, he said, considering the many supporters before the session, including the Cannabis Alliance. Brad Walker, an Alliance member, said the lounge idea still has potential. “What I would like to have happen is a clear pathway for business owners to have a solid business plan, and then with eyes wide open, they could operate like any other business,” he said. Until the legislature changes the rules, the only social place for legal cannabis use in Washington is private property.
Taryn Mickelson is originally from New Mexico and now works in Washington’s cannabis industry. She enjoys writing about the positive changes in this rapidly-growing business.
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