The TETRA Lounge a cannabis consumption lounge in Denver, Co., is an example of what New York state should shoot for, says TETRA owner owner Dewayne Benjamin. Credit: Dewayne Benjamin

There aren’t any consumption lounges in New York state yet, but once the licenses are approved, proprietors of these businesses will have inspiration to draw from.

Lounges can now be found throughout the country, most notably in Colorado and Nevada, and of course, across the pond in Amsterdam.

But what could consumption lounges look like in New York?

A lot will depend on the types of spaces that will be permitted for consumption. 

“The [business owners] that are out in front right now are the ones who have a place and understand the community,” said attorney Frederic R. Abramson, who runs his own firm in New York. “The biggest hold up will be what community boards will allow licenses.”

Interest is peaking in licenses for consumption spots. Abramson says he fields at least three to four inquiries a day from potential clients on moving forward with their business plans.

“I’m getting a lot of interest right now, “ said Abramson. “They’re going to be difficult, well. … They’re only going to be located in places that have opted into these types of licenses.”

With Gov. Kathy Hochul supporting cannabis efforts, lounges will be in New York’s future sooner than later. Neither the New York Office of Cannabis Management nor the Cannabis Control Board have drafted any plans for lounges yet, with no news expected until June. Any awarding of licenses wouldn’t be expected until the Fall, and there’s little public information regarding what licenses will be offered and when.

Regardless, the steps forward with social equity licensing help and the ruling to allow hemp farmers to opt into cannabis has built excitement in the state.

“Hell, yes I’m in support of consumption lounges,” laughed Cristina Buccola, a coalition member of Start SMART NY and a cannabis attorney. “It is very important for the cannabis ecosystem in New York. You are allowed to smoke in most places, but not a car or a park. But a lot of people have housing where it is not allowed.” 

According to The Office of Cannabis Management, while cannabis is legal in New York, it can only be consumed in a private home or eventually in a state-licensed on-site consumption site. Cannabis smoking is prohibited anywhere tobacco is prohibited. Cannabis has also been added to the Clean Indoor Air Act for further guidelines regarding its public use. Landlords, property owners and hotels can all prohibit use, as well as any federal land.

Colorado no longer faces those types of issues. With a dispensary on every corner in tourist-heavy areas, consumption lounges started popping up around four years ago. TETRA Lounge, located in downtown Denver, was one of the first.

“TETRA really designed itself over the last four years,” said owner Dewayne Benjamin. “Back then, Denver didn’t have hospitality laws permitting smoking and you couldn’t just smoke in public. I created a private place for consumers looking to smoke.

“We took a look at what people who were coming wanted. The design gives you that first time smoking feeling that you had with your friends in the basement or garage or on the couch playing video games. There’s music and art, it’s a social experience.”

Benjamin says his lounge attracts a lot of tourists but he’s made sure the locals are involved as well, hosting different events during weekdays for the locals. He’s busy on Friday and Saturday nights as you would expect at your typical bar experience, with some exceptions.

“There’s a surprisingly diverse group of people,” said Benjamin. “We cater to everyone from 21-80 year olds and every culture. There’s a larger market than what you would suspect.”

TETRA Lounge is a well-oiled machine now, with Benjamin boasting that he’s had visitors from almost every state, as well as 15 different countries. It wasn’t quite as successful in the early going, which is why Benjamin doesn’t mind helping his east coast counterparts.

“Everything went wrong the first year,” he said. “There wasn’t a model for me to follow. When I opened, I didn’t know who would be first through the door. But the cannabis brings people together.

“I have been doing a lot of consulting for a guy in New Jersey this year, but I’ve talked to people in Chicago, Arizona, Las Vegas, and St. Louis. With the Denver market so advanced, I think everywhere else will take a little time to get something going.”

That timeline in New York isn’t set. Consumption lounges will likely be the last to hit market, after cultivation and dispensaries for adult use are up and running.

“We are probably looking at 2023,” said Buccola. “Maybe by the end of April there will be some regulation, final regulation in November. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some type of intermediary license, to help feed into some type of retail environment.

“Consumption lounges are going to be very important. It is going to be important to have a place to consume cannabis safely.”