MARCH 31, 2023

Will Cannabis Consumption Lounges be the Next Booze Bars?

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Slowly but surely cannabis continues to break barriers and enter the mainstream of recreational products across the globe. As we watch the state by state, province by province and country by country legalization of cannabis unfold, it’s only natural to wonder if alongside recreational cannabis, the world will see a rise in cannabis consumption lounges.  

Over the last decade, consumption lounges have creeping into public domain, however in most cases consumption lounges remain reminiscent of the speakeasy days of alcohol. Still, growing interest in consumption lounges signals the advent of a renaissance in consumer opinion and behaviour when it comes to cannabis.  

With shifting views and growing acceptance of cannabis worldwide, whether cannabis consumption lounges have the potential to match – or overtake! – the popularity of bars or taprooms is a question no doubt on the lips of many cannabis consumers.

Cannabis Consumption Lounges: The Basics

When someone says cannabis consumption lounge if Amsterdam’s coffeeshops don’t come to mind, then you’re missing a crucial piece of cannabis history. That’s right, although cannabis is only decriminalized (not legalized, yet!) in the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s coffeeshops have offered visitors a safe space to enjoy legal cannabis since the 1970s.  

That said, a cannabis consumption lounge follows the same idea as a coffeeshop, bar, or hookah lounge… except for, well, cannabis. A cannabis consumption lounge is a legal retail space that allows on-site consumption – smoking, vaping, dabbing, ingesting edibles – of cannabis. From indoor private venues to outdoor patios, cannabis lounges offer patrons a safe, comfortable, and social space to legally enjoy their weed.

What to Expect from a Cannabis Consumption Lounge

Similar to other food service and beverage establishments, patrons of cannabis lounges can order from a selection of dried flower, extracts, edibles and beverages. And the venues don’t disappoint, catering to a clientele looking to relax and socialize with comfortable seating nooks and entertainment options. Some lounges even go so far as to offer patrons with cannabis education opportunities and access to medical professionals, if needed. However, where cannabis consumption lounges fall short is in offering food or beverage service.   

Indeed, cities across the United States, such as San Francisco are home to “smoking lounges”, which allow patrons to exclusively consume cannabis. But for a culture that prides itself on community and socialization, not to mention an activity known to solicit the munchies, these lounges can feel a little lacking.  

That’s why, taking a cue from Amsterdam, a new bill has been proposed for California, that would allow patrons to order food and drinks (no alcohol) while they partake in their preferred cannabis consumption activities. These more “restaurant-style” establishments could go further to allow live entertainment, becoming a destination for cannabis consumers akin to establishments outside of the cannabis industry. 

Cannabis Consumption Lounges and Where to Find Them


Despite the handful of consumption lounges open across California and Nevada, the complex legal landscape in the United States has proven more prohibitive to successful cannabis lounges than not. Similarly, outside the United States, consumption lounges are the talk of the industry but not exactly rampantly open for business.  

While Amsterdam’s notoriety for consumption lounges has been a beacon of tourism to the city for decades, other European countries aren’t as tolerant.  

Spain, for instance, is host to more than 700 cannabis clubs, that not only cultivate their own cannabis, but provide a place for members to enjoy cannabis, for a membership fee. However, unlike the touristic nature of Amsterdam’s Red Light district, Spain’s cannabis clubs only cater to Spanish residents.  

In Canada, residents are still (im)patiently waiting for consumption lounges to be formally approved. That’s not to say there are no consumption lounges, just more creative ways of circumventing the lagging regulations. Ontario, for instance, was home to HotBox Café for nearly two decades before it closed its doors in 2022. HotBox Café first opened in 2000 as a headshop, before adding a cannabis lounge several years later. Likewise British Columbia has been home to New Amsterdam Café in Vancouver since the late 1990s. New to the roster is Alberta’s Mary Jane Manor, a boutique hotel with on-site licensed cannabis store, separated by individual entrances to appease regulators.    

Still, with year five of legalization nearly half way done, legal consumption spaces are shaping up to be a missed opportunity, due in large part to provincial governments not creating the legal framework for cannabis consumption lounges in their jurisdictions.

Cannabis Consumption Lounges: The Next Big Thing


While widespread adoption of cannabis consumption lounges trails behind the legalization of cannabis across North America and the world, the is a shift in consumer sentiment and growing acceptance of cannabis usage is planting the seed of change with younger demographics. However, whether we can expect to see cannabis consumption lounges become the next big thing remains to be seen.  

With an industry that is still in its adoption phase across the world, many of the roadblocks that exist stem from an insufficient and complex – or complete lack thereof - regulatory framework and overall public acceptance.  

In the United States, without federal legalization, individual regulation of consumption lounges is left to the states that have approved cannabis for recreational use. While in some states with a longer history of recreational cannabis, like California, Colorado and Nevada, consumers are more likely to find a variety of cannabis-friendly consumption lounges and venues, most states lack the framework necessary to adhere with strict cannabis regulations and compliance requirements for cannabis consumption lounges.  

As far as public opinion is concerned, yes, cannabis, while still mired in negative stigma has been steadily gaining in popularity over recent years. But that popularity might not be enough to tip the scales in favour of widespread adoption...yet   

A 2021 public engagement survey out of British Columbia highlighted that while British Columbians who consume cannabis are interested in consumption lounge, those who do not consume tend to oppose the idea, citing concerns with impairment due to both cannabis and alcohol for sale at the same venue.  

Looking at alcohol and cannabis, a Gallup study from 2021 highlighted a decline in alcohol consumption rates from 65% in 2019 to 60% in 2021. Comparatively, Gallup also surveyed Americans based on their cannabis consumption habits, finding that the percentage of adults engaging in cannabis consumption was steadily rising, with millennials leading the charge for the largest demographic of consumers between 2015-2021.   

Still, despite the setbacks currently holding back the adoption of consumption lounges, industry experts are confident that given time, cannabis consumption lounges have the potential to be the next big wave to sweep the industry. As long as regulators and business owners can navigate issues of public health and safety, zoning and social responsibility, we an expect to see more concrete decisions made about the future of cannabis consumption lounges.

Changing the Social Consumption Landscape with Cannabis Lounges

When it comes to social engagements, venues serving alcohol, like bars and clubs, come to mind for those looking to socialize, relax and be entertained. After prohibition in the 1930s, dedicated venues for alcohol consumption went a long way to normalize drinking and change public opinion on alcohol. Yet, despite being often compared to alcohol, cannabis consumers don’t have (many, if any at all) dedicated spaces to meet the similar needs for socialization, entertainment, and relaxation, perpetuating negative stigma surrounding cannabis consumption.

The purpose of legalization of cannabis was meant to combat the illicit market and normalize cannabis consumption. However, the ambiguous acceptance by regulators to provide similar opportunities for cannabis consumers as they would alcohol consumers has the opposite effect: enabling negative stigma and supporting “creative” means to circumvent the lack of regulation.  

Offering cannabis consumers with a designated, legal space to consume cannabis would go a long way to changing the landscape for cannabis, not only in Canada, but worldwide.  

Furthermore, taking cues from Amsterdam’s cannabis tourism success in the past, offering legal consumption lounges could have a positive economic impact, creating additional tourism opportunities.

What Can we Expect from Cannabis Consumption Lounges? 

As the cannabis industry continues to mature and destigmatization increases, there is no doubt that cannabis consumption lounges will become a part of the future. Until then, regulators and advocates alike will have to work hard to lay the framework for what success looks like for consumption lounges, by taking into account consumer habits and establishing guidelines that will promote safe, responsible, and sustainable usage.

Vivian Allen

Copywriter at CanMar

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