CA: Cannabis Lounges Will Soon Light Up West Hollywood Bar Scene

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu

West Hollywood is betting on a new kind of nightlife: cannabis bars.

Applications for the city’s pot lounges are due Thursday and some of the best known names in the Los Angeles hospitality scene are vying to get in on the action.

The stakes are high. West Hollywood is one of the first cities in the country to introduce these kinds of licenses, and the winners will be allowed to create the equivalent of alcohol-fueled social bars for cannabis users — sans booze. Eight licenses are up for grabs for lounges that offer edible cannabis only, and eight more will be awarded to locations where consumers will be able to eat, drink, vape or smoke the plant as they please.

The city — known for its nightlife — joins others in California, including San Francisco and Oakland, in distributing licenses for pot-friendly social spaces. Pot use is otherwise prohibited in public areas, according to the city’s website.

West Hollywood expects to receive about 100 applications by the deadline of 11:59 p.m., according to Jackie Rocco, business development manager for the city. Applicants can submit for multiple kinds of licenses, she said.

Application Process

All United LLC — which includes the forces behind some of L.A.’s most popular nightclubs — is one of the groups applying for a spot.

All United plans to submit applications Thursday for four kinds of licenses: one for an on-site consumption area for smoking, vaping and ingestion; one for a medical dispensary; one for an adult-use dispensary; and one for a delivery service.

Two of the group’s members, Markus Molinari and Tony LaPenna, are partners at H.Wood Group, which runs trendy L.A. neighborhood haunts including Bootsy Bellows, the Nice Guy and Delilah. Priscilla Vilchis and her team also is involved. She previously won cannabis licenses in Las Vegas and in Lynwood, the first city in Los Angeles County to hand out permits under the new recreational regulations.

The range of relevant professional experience — including hospitality and cannabis — is an asset for the team’s application, Vilchis said in an emailed statement. “Our team recognizes that our diversity is our greatest strength,” she said.

The legal U.S. cannabis industry is expected to reach $75 billion by 2030, up from $6 billion in 2016, according to investment bank Cowen & Co. The plant is legal for recreational use in nine U.S. states and for medicinal use in 21 more. In California, state and local tax revenue could exceed $1 billion a year by the mid-2020s, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Still, patrons may not see that or any group’s plan come to fruition for quite some time. The May 31 application deadline is the first step in a seven-part approval process, according to the West Hollywood website. The very earliest that lounges could open is likely the end of this year, Rocco said.

“We really anticipate realistically that it will probably be sometime in the spring of next year,” she said.