Business Opinion

Why We Should Re-think Cannabis Culture and Business Opportunities with Canna-Lounges

cannabis culture

Alex Ledesma, co-founder, Shiny Bud

Since the legalization of cannabis two years ago, talks of establishing consumption venues have been ongoing. The industry, cannabis culture (and its clients) were profoundly disappointed in the recent decision in Ontario to maintain the status quo, where all legal sales remain under the control of the Ontario Cannabis Store. 

But the role of a consumption lounge isn’t just a place to socially enjoy cannabis consumption.

While recreational cannabis has been legal for nearly two years in Canada, consuming it in many locations is not. Even in public places where it’s okay to smoke, it can be hard to control the presence of children or how the smell may affect non-consumers.

A clear way forward could be providing a safe, controlled environment for Ontarians of legal age to consume cannabis. 

Promoting Business and Educational Opportunities 

Lounges and cafes can provide education for new consumers. In providing a safe social environment to consume, lounges can help keep cannabis away from minors and contribute to the eradication of the illicit market — all of which were frequently touted as some of the primary goals of legalization.

While many are quick to reason with and uphold the lounge ban, doing so ignores the many business advantages they can provide for local communities. In places like Colorado, where 25 percent of travellers listed cannabis as a reason for visiting the state, lounges are a way to capitalize on market potential. This is also why Colorado has granted business licences for bring-your-own-cannabis lounges to accommodate its tourism industry, which contributed $20 billion in 2019 to the state’s economy. 

The recreational cannabis market is thriving in other states as well. Take Michigan, where recreational marijuana sales have grown more than eightfold since December, translating into a blossoming market for consumption lounges in cities like Lansing. In West Hollywood, services and offerings are being expanded to fill the void in users’ appetites for elevated, social cannabis consumption experiences. There are already several lounges and cafes that have been green-lit in Hollywood that raise the culinary bar for food and cannabis pairings with sophisticated menus taking cannabis culture to new heights. 

Education is another important component in redefining the cannabis culture and ensuring responsible consumption. As the body of legislation around cannabis is still in its infancy, there are many canna-curious Ontarians who are interested in trying, but don’t know where to start. Without guidance and education from a knowledgeable source, new users in particular may be vulnerable to the numerous, widely-held fallacies about cannabis. These may include such myths as edibles providing a less-intense high than smoking flower (it’s often the opposite), that it’s safe to drive shortly after smoking (it isn’t), or that cannabis is a “gateway” drug (which has been thoroughly debunked).

Defining Need, Consumption and Culture

Even the most experienced cannabis connoisseurs can feel overwhelmed when faced with the dizzying array of products now available at local dispensaries and online. As options increase, even veteran consumers may not know the ins and outs of previously less-common products such as beverages, extracts, and edibles.

The opportunity to familiarize consumers with products isn’t limited to licensed producers. Makers of accessories such as rolling papers, grinders, vapes, bongs, and other accoutrements can take advantage of the occasion to let users test their wares and even find healthier, more enjoyable ways to consume.

New and experienced cannabis consumers would have the ability to consume their product of choice safely, try something new, or simply get advice that goes beyond what can be provided at a dispensary. 

The result? More satisfied consumers and the incentivization of illicit-market buyers to delve into the wonderful world of legal weed.

There’s also the added financial benefit to fostering a cannabis culture that’s integrated into business models for lounges. Consider Colorado: though the state allows cannabis users to consume edibles and other non-smoking items in businesses like lounges, these spaces are only successful if opened next to a dispensary. “It doesn’t work as a standalone,” says a Denver cannabis cafe owner. This suggests the need to marry the retail and social consumption aspects of recreational cannabis, similar to popularized Hookah and Shisha lounges where users can purchase and consume on site, to capitalize on the potential gains from Canada’s cannabis sector, which contributed $8.26 billion to the country’s gross domestic product as of July 2019. 

A New Home For Cannabis Users 

Apartment and condo-dwellers, who may be banned outright from consuming at home or are unable to do so without affecting their neighbours, can find a safe and comfortable place to consume with the implementation of lounges. 

By guiding those consumers towards a local lounge, as opposed to remaining at home, the opportunity to convert them to legal cannabis products will create a better environment for users and  is an economic opportunity that is difficult to ignore. 

Consumption lounges can be beneficial to the communities they serve, the legal industry, and perhaps most importantly, to consumers by providing in-person education, guidance, and ensuring that more Ontarians select safe, regulated cannabis products in lieu of the untested offerings on the illicit market.

Ontario’s provincial and municipal governments, health authorities, and community leaders would be wise to take heed — and to let their constituents have a safe place to consume their weed.

Alex Ledesma is co-founder of Shiny Bud, a Toronto-based recreational retailer with a carefully-curated selection of cannabis brands and accessories.