Cannabis consumption lounges will create ‘safe spaces’ to consume, business owners say
Rules regulating lounges were approved last week
New rules will allow for cannabis consumption lounges in New Jersey like the Cola Lounge cannabis consumption venue in St. Louis, Missouri, owned by Brennan England. (Rebecca Rivas | Missouri Independent)
Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez hopes to host community events on the second floor of her soon-to-open cannabis dispensary, events like smoke-and-yoga sessions and comedy nights featuring cannabis.
“I think it’s really critical for us to create those safe spaces to consume,” said Brevard-Rodriguez, owner of The Other Side Dispensary in Jersey City. “But the other part of it is connecting with people … I think it’s really important for the culture of cannabis.”
Her goal is now closer to reality, with the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission’s recent approval of cannabis lounge rules. At its first meeting of the year last week, the commission unanimously approved rules allowing for consumption areas attached to certain dispensaries.
While recreational cannabis has been for sale since April 2022, there’s virtually no legal place to consume marijuana other than inside a private residence.
The rules, first proposed in December 2022, will become effective in February. It’s unclear when the commission will begin accepting applications for lounges, but according to the commission’s chair, Dianna Houenou, “a couple more steps need to happen” first.
There will be some general rules. No tobacco, alcohol, or food products can be sold in consumption lounges, but people can get food delivered or bring their own food. Lounges will be limited to people 21 years or older who show photo ID, the same restrictions for buying recreational cannabis in New Jersey.
New Jersey Cannabusiness Association President Scott Rudder applauded the rules, noting that the first conversations he had with policymakers about legalizing marijuana included discussions about consumption lounges. Rudder said lounges will ensure consumers, particularly medical marijuana patients and people who live in federally subsidized housing, can find a space to ingest cannabis legally without jeopardizing their living situation.
“That’s how the conversation started, and there’s been an evolution to where we are today,” he said. “Patients will have a nice place to consume their medication, but now consumers in general will have the opportunity to go and unwind, talk to friends, maybe have lunch or watch musicians. We’re going to start small and see how things go.”
Rudder said he’s not worried about the rules barring on-site food and drinks. Local breweries found ways to forge partnerships with food trucks, he said, adding that lounges with kitchens would result in another set of rules and regulations.
While a handful of dispensaries scattered around the Garden State have already announced plans for consumption lounges, Rudder said more businesses will probably wait to make their own plans.
“I think you’re going to see some consumption lounges open here and there, and people will wait and see what they’re doing. Are they making any money? Are they free of safety issues or are other concerns being realized? People are going to look at this smartly,” Rudder said.
Rudder also noted that some dispensary owners want to turn a profit first before expanding. He owns a dispensary in Riverside that has yet to open, and a consumption lounge there “is something that will be a little further down the path,” he said.
Brevard-Rodriguez shares that sentiment. She wants her dispensary to get off the ground first — she’s eyeing a summer 2024 grand opening — before opening its lounge.
She also noted the Cannabis Regulatory Commission has set an initial fee of $5,000, plus an annual fee, for lounge approval (microbusinesses will see a $1,000 fee). Getting the Other Side Dispensary ready to open has already been an expensive and cumbersome process, more so than with the other businesses she’s owned, she said.
The commission has not detailed what the consumption lounge application process will look like and what governmental approvals business owners must secure for them.
Jon Cohn, an investor in High Rollers Dispensary in the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, received a thumbs-up from the city and has begun searching for staff to oversee its lounge. The dispensary will be located on the hotel’s former casino floor.
Cohn criticized the commission’s move to require indoor dispensaries to be accessible only through the dispensary, rather than allowing a separate entrance.
“We want to grow with the business as it matures, with the regulations as they mature. We recognize it’s not going to be perfect out the gate,” he said.
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