Marabis purchased a movie theater in Springfield, Illinois for a new dispensary. They hope to add a consumption lounge to the space soon. Credit: Dan Linn / Provided

As state and local governments lift pandemic-related restrictions, cannabis companies and consumers are returning to plans for public consumption events and venues they shelved almost 18 months ago. 

Underground events are moving first, as Covid-related limits end, such as cannabis-infused private dinners, weddings, and special events conducted on the downlow with addresses only provided to invited guests.

One anticipated project was HCI Alternatives’ (since purchased by New York-based Ascend Wellness Holdings) plan for in-store, controlled public consumption, granted approval in January 2020 by the City of Springfield, Illinois. Then came Covid-19, which put the pause button on public pot parties. 

In April 2021, Illinois’ vertically-integrated operator Bedford Grow opened its Springfield-based Maribis dispensary in a former AMC movie theater with aspirations to add a grow house and consumption lounge

“Providing areas for public consumption is absolutely on the agenda,” said Pam Althoff, executive director of Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, which plans to host an upcoming political action committee private function curated by High-Minded Events. “Consumption lounges are important, as well as public consumption at major events and concerts like Lollapalooza. We know the City of Chicago is looking into this.”   

While a bill was introduced in the Michigan House last week to prohibit consumption in food serving establishments, events like the July 31 Niles Cannabis Festival are charging upwards of $3,000 for attendees to “get groovy” as they, “showcase some of the best cannabis brands in the state.” 

In May, Maryland-based multistate operator Holistic Industries was set to open a consumption lounge in Ann Arbor adjacent to its Liberty dispensary. This reportedly would have been the first of its kind in the state. A Liberty dispensary customer representative told Grown In that they are now at least one year away from opening a location as the original timetable was, “a little too ambitious.”

In Missouri, where medical sales began last year, members-only consumption spaces like The Cola Lounge in St. Louis are hoping to provide education sessions for first-timers as well as experienced users looking to expand their marijuana modalities. Members bring their own bud and get access to an infusion kitchen, guided meditation, and board games. 

“We want to be responsible and authentic stewards for safe and healthy cannabis experiences in the Midwest,” said Cola Lounge owner Brennan England, who also started the St. Louis Cannabis Club to connect cannabis culture enthusiasts with industry owners and operators. “We function as a private space and members lounge. No public access. That sets us within the parameters and compliance of the law.”

With limited guidance from states and municipalities across the country, industry veterans and event organizers are cautiously creating a market they believe will lead to significant consumer demand.  

“It’s really just a sequence in terms of how the public is adopting these things,” said Colorado cannabis entrepreneur John McCaskill, whose company The HTBX organized Denver’s first licensed public consumption event in September 2019. “You have these pioneers in cannabis workspaces who are able to carry these things over. We’ve seen examples across the country: Good, bad, and otherwise of how things work. It really comes down to how you run your business and how you operate within the confines of what the law allows for.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.