Anna Germain doesn’t mince words when explaining why she opened The Rec Center, the first legal cannabis lounge in Michigan. “Stoners tend to be really friendly,” she says. “They don’t like feeling isolated. They’re dying for a social outlet.”
The offerings at The Rec Center—where visitors are allowed to smoke, vape, or snarf cannabis openly—sound like an adult playground. There are cushy couches, trippy wall murals of psychedelic butterflies and octopuses, and amenities like pool tables, shuffleboard, ping pong, and a claw arcade machine filled with edibles, silicone bongs, and pre-rolled joints. The so-called “social club”—it’s located in an old wedding banquet hall in Mount Morris, a small town north of Detroit—is barely a year old, but business is already booming, with a steady clientele of locals and out-of-state tourists.
“We don’t get a lot of what I call typical pot smokers,” says Germain, who opened The Rec Center in January 2019, less than a month after recreational cannabis became legal in Michigan. “It’s kind of amazing how many 90-year-old women we get in here. I did not see that coming.”
Places like The Rec Center are hardly in the minority. Cannabis lounges, where people can ingest weed together in a tavern-like environment, are popping up all over North America, from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Oakland, California.
Back in 2018, there were just nine licensed consumption lounges in the country, seven of them in San Francisco. (The other two were in Denver and Oakland.) But this year, 16 new licenses were given to cannabis lounges in West Hollywood alone. And those are just the ones that were approved from more than 300 applications.
“Consumption lounges are the future,” says Jackie Subeck, a Los Angeles-based cannabis consultant and advocate (who also nabbed one of those West Hollywood licenses.) “They’re the next frontier in cannabis.”
The vast majority of them don’t actually sell weed. You either bring your own or purchase from a nearby dispensary. The real reason to come is the sense of community.
“There’s something about marijuana that’s very social,” says Manpreet Dhaliwal, the general manager at Vapor Central in Toronto, Canada. “It’s how somebody new gets accepted into your circle.”
For $5 a head (or $25 for a monthly pass), Vapor Central guests have unlimited access to accessories like vaporizers, bongs, and dab rigs, and a cozy environment with a dozen leather couches and wall-mounted flatscreen TVs. More important than all of that: the feeling of belonging, says Dhaliwal. “People still do a double-take if you try smoking on the street, even if it’s legal,” she says. “But here it’s normalized. There’s no stigma at all.”
Not every cannabis lounge is like the world’s comfiest living room. Some are decorated like hipster bars, like the ultra-chic Moe Greens in San Francisco. If the name sounds familiar, it’s a play on the doomed Las Vegas mobster in The Godfather Part II, which is why the joint is designed to look like a 50s-era Vegas casino. Urban Pharm in San Francisco has a steampunk vibe, with Gatling gun light fixtures, wrought iron accents, and a flying pig sculpture that includes goggles, jet pack, and wings.
There’s more to do at many of these lounges than just get stoned in a crowd. The Coffee Joint in Denver has singles mixers, yoga, and “Spoken Weed” poetry nights. Vapor Central offers drag shows, DJ dance parties, “Karatokee” (see what they did there?), and a weekly comedy show dubbed “Stoner Sundays” that regularly sells out. (The comedians must love that.)
Lowell Café, a stylish club that opened in October 2019 in Los Angeles, is the country’s first legal cannabis café. Not only can you vape or smoke in a posh, upscale environment, but the munchies menu includes tantalizing options like miso-glazed pork belly, jalapeño mac and cheese bites, and vegan nachos. If you’re worried about walking into a smoky setting that smells like a college dorm room, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. “For most of these lounges, odor control is a huge priority,” says Subeck. “They invest in an HVAC system that will literally clean the air. It’s about as funky smelling as a doctor’s waiting room.”
But the biggest surprise of all may be the people you encounter. Sure, you’re bound to bump into a few who look like they got lost on their way back from a Phish show. But you’re just as likely to see somebody in a suit, ready for a break after a long day at the office. Moe Greens, in addition to claiming on their website that they’re “a place where you can bring your mother,” also tout their speedy WiFi, and promise that all tables come with USB ports and chargers. Suddenly, martini culture seems so very 20th century. Dhaliwal says Vapor Central typically gets a lunch rush from the business crowd. “We serve everyone from small business owners to CEOs,” she says. “They come to collect their thoughts or get a little inspiration to finish a project. It’s really interesting to see all the laptops pulled out here in the early afternoon.”