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Over the past decade, mainstream access to cannabis and its derived products has become wildly more popular, and dispensaries are popping up around the country like Starbucks coffee shops in the 1990s. Having the ability to purchase cannabis safely is a huge win for consumers and advocates, but it’s only the beginning of cannabis reform.
Here’s the thing: Just because you can buy cannabis safely doesn’t necessarily mean you can consume it safely at will. Today, cannabis is legal in 18 states for adults over the age of 21 years old, but smoking a joint in public is still very much illegal in most parts of America. The majority of states where recreational or medicinal cannabis is permitted only allow its residents to consume these products in a private residence or licensed consumption space. Not exactly the ideal setup for stoner tourists staying in hotels or Airbnbs that don’t allow smoking on their premises.
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A Semi-New Lease on Cannabis
As much of a novelty as cannabis consumption clubs may seem from the outside, they really aren’t anything new. From the psychedelic-induced meetings at the secret Parisian “Le Club des Hachichins” to the speakeasy “Tea Pads” in cities across the United States, people consuming cannabis in a club or lounge atmosphere dates back several centuries.
In 1883, investigative journalist H. H. Kane wrote “A Hashish-House in New York” for Harper’s Monthly, describing his experience at an undisclosed cannabis lounge in Harlem. In this piece, Kane shares his observations and sensations during his time there: “the knob turned by my friend’s hand allowed the door to swing open, and, welcomed by a spice breeze from India, we were truly in paradise.” Kane also notes how the club is “evenly divided” between Americans and “foreigners” while there. He continues, “I feel supremely happy, at peace with myself and all the world, and all that I ask is to be let alone. But why is everything so magnificent here.” (Been there, dude).
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‘Tea Pads’ First Came to Fruition in America During the Late 19th Century
There’s something extremely imperative to keep in mind about American tea pads: These cannabis safe-havens were born in response to the racism and segregation against African Americans at other speakeasies and clubs nationwide. Jazz musicians of the 1930s and 1940s visited these mysterious clubs often, thus making jazz almost synonymous with cannabis consumption and its nightlife establishments. Legend has it there were over hundreds of these tea pads in Harlem alone.
Consumption Clubs of the 21st Century
It’s easy to feel safe when consuming at home, but what about while you’re walking your dog or in public spaces where cigarettes are allowed? All these options aren’t possible, and plenty of people still face the same legal and discriminatory risks that were in place decades ago. The War on Drugs proved cannabis was used as a prop to incarcerate Black and Brown people, and to this day is still being weaponized against BIPOC. Ultimately, these consumption establishments, such as lounges, hotels and cafés, create safe atmospheres for consumers of all ethnicities and experience levels. Consumption lounges are not exactly new, but they do pose a great opportunity in the cannabis industry.
In California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Nevada, retail operators can apply for a different type of cannabis license separate from their retail one. This is where the power truly lies. The normalization of cannabis could indeed be in the hands of these potential consumption spaces. When more people are allowed to smoke in the public eye, it reduces the “shock value” from previous salacious narratives. It also opens doors for the canna-curious who might be too intimidated to visit a dispensary on their own. And, let’s be real, our society is obsessed with having a little liquid courage available at all times. Luckily, cannabis-infused drinks are all the rage for those who prefer to sip their libations and herbs. Again, consumption lounges are crucial to people becoming more comfortable around this plant.
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