Consumption lounges are the future. Public establishments where you can socialize over a smoke will go a long way toward destigmatizing cannabis and simply offering up more fun spots to hang out. Progress has been slow, but that is about to change.
In Michigan—where recreational cannabis use was legalized in 2018 and marijuana sales brought in $2 billion in 2021—you’d think it would be easy for consenting adults to find a cozy spot outside of their homes to sit, mingle with friends, and legally consume marijuana products.
But when it comes to that pleasure, Michigan has fared like states that legalized before it: there are very few places where adults can go to socially consume cannabis like they do alcohol at a bar. Social consumption lounges and cannabis cafés are relatively new terms being used to describe what the state of Michigan refers to as Designated Consumption Establishments (DCE) where folks may consume on the premises. The Marijuana Regulatory Agency has the ability to issue DCE licenses, but as of December, the state has yet to fully approve any applicant for a consumption lounge.
The Race Is On
The future’s been looking bright for entrepreneurs in legal states who want to give the cannabis-smoking public a place to puff their stuff. In Colorado, Denver voters approved consumption lounges back in 2016, but have been waiting six years for the city to approve one to open—which may finally happen early this year. California tokers were able to light up at the aptly named Original Cannabis Cafe in West Hollywood after it opened in September 2019, but it’s been temporarily closed due to the pandemic. Alaska became the first state to allow consumption lounges, in 2019, but the only one operating is a former Chili’s restaurant-turned-lounge called Good Titrations, in Fairbanks.
Things are finally starting to look up for social tokers, as several states have enacted laws that will make it easier for interested businesses to launch consumption cafes. In Nevada, the Planet 13 dispensary superstore has plans to open a state-sanctioned glitzy cannabis consumption lounge next to its existing entertainment complex by mid-2022. In New Jersey, both Atlantic City and Jersey City approved social consumption lounges. New York’s recently passed adult-use laws allow social consumption lounges, but the state’s recreational market isn’t expected to take off until 2023. But, to date, there’s no place in the U.S. that’s emerged as a domestic destination akin to Amsterdam, where consumers are free to light up in the ubiquitous cannabis cafes.
In Michigan, the race is finally on to see who will open the first consumption lounge in the state. Leading the charge is Kalkushka in Kalkaska, set to open in late March of 2022 in a remodeled building on the main street downtown. Part of the Carbidex family of brands, Kalkushka is going to be more than just a spot for consumers to pop in real quick to try the products they picked up at The Botanical Co. dispensary next door. It’s going to be a destination offering users and friends a rich environment to hang out and enjoy the ride.
To get a feel for the ambiance Kalkushka has in store, look no further than The Botanical Co., which also falls under Carbidex’s umbrella of brands. Blending vintage and urban design, the storefront is housed in an historic building that was at different times a pharmacy, a mercantile, and an opera house. The space pays homage to the building’s history with original exposed brick walls, a tin ceiling, and antique display cases handmade in Grand Rapids more than 100 years ago.
Warm and inviting, the cozy 3,000-square-foot lounge will feature several seating areas and a stage for acoustic guitar performances, poetry readings, and stand-up comedy acts. The venue’s floor-to-ceiling windows will allow onlookers to get a peek at the modern cannabis culture happening inside.
One of the goals of Kalkushka, says Russ Chambers, founder and chief executive officer for Carbidex, is to create a space that’s welcoming to both consumer and nonconsumer. “We want it to be the kind of place where whether you’re coming in with your best friend or want to make a new connection, all are welcome.”
“When we tell the canna curious they’ll feel comfortable coming in, we need to make sure they feel comfortable,” says Chambers. This translates to: if someone wants to consume, go right ahead, but if they don’t want to, they don’t have to. “I don’t think the general public will come in en masse, because there’s still such a stigma attached to the legalization and use of our product in public. But I do think lounges are another opportunity to help break that stigma—and the more we can showcase what we’ve created, the more I think people will come in just to see what Kalkushka looks like.”
Highly Anticipated Future
In Colorado, following legalization, private speakeasies seemed to spontaneously emerge only to then vanish just as quickly as they appeared, financially defeated. So Kalkushka, is trying to be realistic.
“If we were creating a standalone consumption lounge, I think we’d be a little bit crazy,” says Chambers. “But maybe our cannabis-consuming customers will consider it in conjunction with the rest of what we do. There will be incentives and discounts for purchases made at The Botanical Co. However, you can bring products from anywhere; you don’t just have to buy them at our dispensary. We’re not going to be exclusionary.
Kalkushka will also prioritize engaging with the local community. It’s even commissioning a local artist to pant a mural on the building’s street-facing storefront. Kalkushka’s developers say they’ve been lucky, because the Kalkaska municipality has been “incredibly supportive of our industry. They’re willing to work with us on all things. And they also see the value in what our industry and projects like this bring to their communities,” says Chambers.
Will you see consumption lounges opening in your community this year? That’s all up to your elected officials. In most states like Michigan with legal cannabis, the municipality’s elected leaders get to decide where and how many consumption lounges are allowed. So, if you’re hoping to head out on the town and light up and chill away from your home then let your community’s elected officials know. More importantly, help educate them.