Credit…Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times
Lounges where customers consume cannabis on site are the next frontier of the state’s recreational marijuana industry.
OJAI, Calif. — Imagine a restaurant where you can order dark chocolate infused with cannabis, or where you can pick a pre-rolled joint from a menu and light up at your table. Think of your neighborhood Starbucks or local dive bar, but with marijuana on tap.
It might sound like Amsterdam, but these businesses appear to be part of the next wave of California’s weed industry, which four years after legalization is still looking for ways to compete with the state’s huge illegal pot market.
These cannabis lounges are opening (or reopening, after pandemic closures) in West Hollywood, San Francisco, Palm Springs and elsewhere. And many smaller California cities, including Ojai, a popular destination 90 minutes from Los Angeles, are considering allowing them as a means to increase tax revenue and attract tourists.
The idea isn’t universally popular. Though California voters legalized marijuana in 2016, the law preserved local control, and many officials don’t want weed sold in their communities. Sixty-two percent of California’s cities and counties, including large municipalities such as Bakersfield, Anaheim and Fremont, don’t allow any kind of marijuana retail.
And cannabis lounges in particular raise a litany of new policy questions that probably won’t be easy to sort out, experts say. “These are a totally new frontier,” said Brad Rowe, an adjunct professor of cannabis policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.