The beginner’s guide to weed lounges: legal public sesh spots
It’s an easy mistake. Cannabis is now legal for adult use in 18 states, so you might assume you can consume cannabis in public, just like you would a cigarette.
Unfortunately, in many states, there’s also a plot twist: legal weed does NOT mean you can legally consume it whenever and wherever you choose.
Sure, you can purchase and possess cannabis in legal states, but legally consuming it has its own set of laws and regulations. The 8,000 dispensaries in the U.S. severely outnumber the number of cannabis smoke lounges or “social consumption” lounges open for communities to safely enjoy their cannabis products.
Anyone who wants to grab a beer or cocktail at a local bar has the protected privilege of safe consumption, yet cannabis consumers still largely lack these crucial venues.
For a peaceful, paranoia-free sesh, stay informed on your state’s and city’s local cannabis consumption laws. Start here with our beginner’s guide on the basics, laws, and best social consumption lounges around.
The legacy of cannabis consumption lounges
Birthed in the shadows of Prohibition, cannabis lounges—also known then as speakeasies—have been cultural watering holes and refuges for over a century. As far back as the late 1800s, records show that there were “hashish clubs” or “hemp retreats” established in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
By the 1930s, New York had over 500 “tea pads”, a moniker coined by Black Americans who used these spaces to safely purchase cannabis, listen to live jazz, and privately consume the plant.
The legacy of these secret lounges has evolved into present-day experiences, like Josephine and Billie’s tea pad-inspired dispensary in Los Angeles, that pay homage to cannabis history.
In 1994, the San Francisco Buyer’s Club, led by renowned advocate Dennis Peron, served as a community collective that ushered in the Prop 215 era in California.
They not only fought to pass laws, but the San Francisco Buyer’s Club also created accessible means for patients with HIV / AIDS, cancer, or other qualifying conditions to obtain their medical marijuana.
“Even with the rumors of federal legalization around the corner, smoking a joint in public is still very much an act of rebellion that has long been maliciously policed. When we prioritize safe consumption as much as safe access, we center equity and safety for BIPOC & LGBTQIA+ communities.”— Red Rodriguez, Rolling Stone Culture Council member and former director of vendor relations at West Hollywood’s OG Cannabis Cafe.
Whether it’s Black and Brown communities in the prohibition era or LGBTQ+ activists in San Francisco, social consumption has always provided trusted havens for people to enjoy and consume cannabis.
This remains a relevant issue today, as BIPOC communities are disproportionately targeted by the lack of and nuances of cannabis consumption legislation.
States where social cannabis consumption is allowed
City and state governments play a major role in shaping the consumption regulations within their borders. Generally, legislation has restricted cannabis consumption to private residences. This means those living in apartment buildings or shared communities face difficulties, as landlords have the right to ban smoking within the premises.
As of 2022, ten states have regulations that allow social consumption:
- New Jersey*
- New Mexico
- New York*
*Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Nevada have all passed language for social consumption, but have yet to issue licenses to their establishments.
But even states with lounges can penalize noncompliance. In fact, smoking in public can still leave you open to a $250 fine in states like California.
In New Jersey, landlords can ban smoking within the property, but cannot prevent residents from consuming edibles or topicals. However, Jersey City and Hoboken have paved the way as the first two NJ cities to approve regulations for social consumption lounges.
Other states have found unconventional and inspired ways to serve the cannabis community. The Elevations Lounge in the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona is an example of a privately-owned venue that has decided to accommodate stoners as the state’s “first cannabis-friendly hotel.”
Know before you go: cannabis consumption lounge FAQ
If you live in or pass through a state where social consumption lounges are open for seshing, here’s what you can expect on your trip. Since California currently has the most social consumption lounges operating in the United States, we will use the Golden State as a point of reference.
Can you buy weed at a consumption lounge?
First thing’s first. You have to know if you can buy weed at the consumption lounge you’re headed to or if you need to bring it with you.
Social consumption lounges can either operate as a standalone lounge or operate in conjunction with a dispensary or delivery service. This means you can relax, as cannabis will be on-site or nearby. In California, many lounges require a purchase the day you attend, just as you would pay for a meal at a restaurant.
States like Illinois and Colorado, however, allow guests to BYOC, “bring-your-own-cannabis,” to the establishment. But even then, most lounges are still located near a dispensary. Consumption lounges also always come stocked with bongs, dab rigs, papers, and other essentials, for an added fee.
Reservations and time limits, unfortunately, are a necessary evil at cannabis lounges. To enter the lounge, you may need to pay an associated charge or a general membership fee. Once seated, the average permitted seating time can range from 90 minutes to 120 minutes on a single reservation.
What if I get too high at the weed lounge?
What happens when you get too high at a social consumption lounge? First, take your time to sober up and communicate to a friend or the staff. Just as bartenders are educated to observe patron impairment, budtenders within social consumption lounges are trained to look out for cannabis-specific signs of impairment.
Limits on THC during a single visit may be enforced depending on where you are, and some consumption lounges may request that you do not consume edibles.
What if I get the munchies?
Like any good cannabis enthusiast, you may be curious about what your options when the munchies strike at a weed lounge.
While non-cannabis foods cannot be prepared within the location, many social consumption lounges partner with restaurants or vendors to make sure the munchies are flowing. With that being said, throw a reuseable baggie of your favorite snack in your bag just in case.
How’s the air inside the lounge?
Air quality is also a major regulatory consideration for social consumption lounges. The concern for secondhand cannabis smoke is being researched, and indoor air laws will continue to be a discussion for onsite and indoor consumption.
Additional air filtration requirements are commonplace similar to what is used in cigar shops. But even still in cases like Washington’s Clean Air Act, HB 2136 governments can still virtually ban “marijuana social clubs” within the state.
Highly-recommended cannabis lounges across the nation
SoCal weed lounges
The Studio Lounge at The Artist Tree (WeHo)
The Studio Lounge is a classy yet sophisticated take on a social consumption space located on the second floor of The Artist Tree’s West Hollywood location. Once upstairs, you can pay a cover fee for a table or seat at the bar. Studenglass gravity bongs and Puffco Peaks are available for rent while you smoke into the sunset.
Central California: Cookies Coalinga
Fresno County is home to the first Cookies consumption lounge in the United States. Cookies Coalinga is another hybrid dispensary lounge that officially opened in partnership with EVIDENCE, a California-based cannabis brand, in September 2021. The lounge fits about 30 people and is furnished with a bar & lavish leather seating.
NorCal weed lounges
Barbary Coast (SF)
True to its wild west roots, San Francisco has licensed nearly a dozen cannabis consumption lounges in recent years, and Barbary Coast’s dispensary and lounge concept is a must-see experience. The rich wood interior and red leather booth chairs evoke an elegant flair that will bring the connoisseur out in anyone. There is both a dab bar for sampling concentrates and a combustion lounge for the smokers.
Colorado weed lounges
The Tetra Lounge
The Tetra Lounge is Denver’s first social equity cannabis consumption lounge and one of the first in the nation. Founded by DeWayne Benjamin, the Tetra Lounge operates on a BYOC basis and offers a daily, monthly, and annual membership. Enjoy a joint on their outdoor patio or play video games after a long day’s work.
Michigan weed lounges
Hotbox Social is one of the social consumption lounges in Michigan that will be open in summer 2022. Located near 9 Mile Road, Hotbox Social is close to the Detroit metro area, and will follow a BYOC policy. However, you are allowed to order cannabis products for delivery while you hangout.
Illinois weed lounges
Chicagoland’s very first “smokeasy” lounge sits just half an hour north of Chicago. Patrons of RISE Mundelein are highly encouraged to make reservations in advance and can purchase all their goodies at the adjoining dispensary for both medical and rec users.
This lounge aesthetic mixes old mobster vibes with sleek, modern design, and ample elegant smoking accessories. They also regularly host events, including brand pop-ups, music, and standup comedy.
The Luna Lounge
The Luna Lounge located in Sesser, Illinois is four hours away from Chicago, but might just be worth the trip to visit the state’s first cannabis consumption lounge and smoke shop.
Themed after 1920’s prohibition, The Luna Lounge is an intimate venue with live music and is open seven nights a week.
Nevada weed lounges
NuWu Cannabis Marketplace (Las Vegas Paiute Tribe Land)
Despite Nevada recently passing regulations in 2021 for social consumption licenses, NuWu Cannabis Marketplace is currently the only legal consumption lounge in the state. This lounge is situated on the Paiute Tribe’s land and is compliant due to their tribal sovereignty.
New York weed lounges
Inside the underground scene
New York is the cannabis capital of the world, and is one of the rare states that legalized adult use and allowed people to smoke cannabis anywhere that tobacco is consumed.
New York is planning to open social consumption lounges, but we cannot neglect the legacy lounges that have and are currently operating to provide the NYC community with safe havens. Here’s the list of them to make sure you have a reference for going.
Leafly’s state-by-state weed lounge list
- Barbary Coast
- Bloom Room SF
- CDXX Dispensary & Lounge
- Cookies Coalinga
- Dr. Green Thumb’s
- Double Eye Lounge
- Mission Cannabis Club
- Moe Greens
- Papa & Barkley Social
- The OG Cannabis Cafe
- Studio Lounge at The Artist Tree WeHo
- SPARC Polk Street
- Union Station
- The Vault Dispensary & Lounge
- The Woods
- Vapor Room
- NuWu Cannabis (Las Vegas Paiute Tribe land)
Other 420-friendly hospitality
420-friendly hospitality is a growing industry sector that includes tour buses, hotels, and bed and breakfasts that permit blazing up. We could go on all day about this, but we’ll save it for part two. Here’s a sampler list to start with.
- Sesh City Bus (Chicago, IL)
- The Clarendon Hotel (Phoenix, AZ)
- Patterson Inn Hospitality Lounge (Denver, CO)
Lounges abroad: Barcelona + Amsterdam
On the international side, Barcelona and Amsterdam are two of the most world-renowned cities for social consumption lounges, often called cannabis clubs. Spain alone has hundreds of cannabis social clubs that provide safe means to purchase and smoke.
Additionally, Amsterdam’s coffee shops are a cultural staple that have inspired US cannabis culture tremendously. But recently, it’s government hasn’t been too thrilled with all the cannabis tourism. Be sure to check international laws of any countries to visit before you purchase or travel.
The inevitable evolution of the cannabis lounge experience
It is clear that cannabis is a social plant at its essence. History has shown this plant has brought us together and helped build and protect communities that need it most. Across the globe, consumption lounges are a melting pot for culture, people, and celebration.
“We need consumption lounges here that connect growers with consumers, similar to a farmers market style set up. Consumer consciousness is quickly shifting towards favoring craft brands and products, and these lounges can be a place for cultivators to connect with consumers.—Will Perry, co-founder of Oregon-based cultivator and brand Magic Hour Cannabis
The future of cannabis retail is experiential which includes venues like lounges that can inspire cannabis enthusiasts to leave the house and provide equity-minded means for consumption.
The normalization of enjoying this plant in our public spheres is a monumental shift the entire cannabis community can be excited for.