A red-hot new segment of the industry is taking off, with little direction and massive obstacles
In theory, consumption lounges should be where the rubber meets the road in the cannabis industry. But while new lounges are opening across the country, operators don’t seem to have much runway to work with under the current regulations.
California in 2019 was the first state to allow licensed consumption lounges to open — and then the coronavirus pandemic hit and the segment was left idling. By the time the world was ready to stop working from home, Alaska was already running consumption lounges, Colorado, Illinois and Michigan were launching their programs, and Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York were developing their own regulations.
Today, lounges are open in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and New Mexico.
But business owners in the fast-growing segment are hopeful the regulations, which were built around the regulatory framework of the existing state cannabis industries and don’t necessarily lend themselves well to hospitality businesses, will ease as the new segment finds its footing.
Marijuana Venture reached out to operators in open and upcoming states to see what these businesses can legally offer consumers, what is currently working for their business models and what they hope to incorporate in the future.
RISE Mundelein Lounge & Smokeasy
The only consumption lounge operating in Illinois, RISE Mundelein Lounge & Smokeasy, opened in October 2021 in Mundelein, Illinois, just 35 miles northeast from downtown Chicago and 23 miles from the Wisconsin border. It shares its location with a RISE cannabis store — one of the retail brands of multi-state operator Green Thumb Industries (GTI) — and accepts patrons by reservation only.
“The lounge reservation-only system helps stagger guests and make sure that everyone in the lounge can receive attentive service,” says Brendan Blume, GTI’s vice president of store development. “We make sure that we offer reservations so that we can provide dedicated attention to all customers without experiencing a ‘rush’ or creating an overwhelming environment.”
The lounge offers a wide selection of consumption devices for its patrons, including some of the more high-end apparatuses that may be cost- or space-prohibitive for many consumers, such as elaborate glass bongs, dab rigs or gravity bongs. As its “Smokeasy” name would imply, the lounge takes design cues from 1930s Americana to recreate the feeling of one of the many infamous and swanky speakeasys from Chicago’s past. But the lounge and dispensary also house an educational component in the artwork along its walls — and through its staff — about cannabis history and the lounge’s role as the first licensed business to allow onsite consumption east of the Mississippi.
“The mission of our lounge is to help normalize the use of cannabis while also empowering guests with information and a safe and comfortable place to consume,” Blume says. “Being at the forefront of normalizing cannabis consumption is extremely exciting and also a responsibility that we do not take lightly.”
The lounge also hosts live music, trivia, painting classes, yoga and standup comedy. The lounge itself accommodates up to 47 guests with room for another 17 in its private rooms. Tables reserved at RISE Lounge & Smokeasy have a two-hour time limit.