Visit West Hollywood, a tourism agency, has a website that touts the city’s shopping on Santa Monica Boulevard and its nightlife on the Sunset Strip — and its five licensed cannabis stores.
In January, West Hollywood drew headlines for being the first city in Los Angeles County to let shops sell marijuana to anyone 21 and older with just an ID. Now, WeHo is poised to make headlines again as perhaps the first city in Southern California – and one of just a handful in the United States – to allow cannabis lounges.
“Having a space that allows for the safe and legal consumption of the products, that was just really important for our city,” said Jackie Rocco, who oversees the program as West Hollywood’s manager of business development.
When Californians voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016 under Proposition 64, they approved a ban on all public consumption and gave landlords the right to regulate marijuana use on private property.
That leaves tourists with few options. Most hotels — aside from rare “bud and breakfast” resorts that cater to enthusiasts — will fine anyone caught smoking anything in their rooms.
It also limits cannabis consumption options for up to half of all California residents, since landlords can bar tenants from consuming marijuana in any form in rental units. Plus residents can get booted from federally subsidized housing if they’re caught smoking weed inside.
Cannabis lounges — spaces where people can legally smoke, vape or eat marijuana products — is one way to address those problems, Rocco said.
She said lounges also will help marijuana transition from something Californians do in secret to something that can be enjoyed without shame in a social setting, the same way adults can drink alcohol in a bar or countless other venues.
“This is now legal in California,” Rocco said.
“Lounges can help dispel this myth that this is something seedy, and to show that it can be consumed safely if people are educated and given legal options.”
As with all marijuana businesses, Prop. 64 leaves it up to California cities to decide whether to allow lounges in their boundaries. No special state license is required, though all lounges must have state clearance to sell cannabis. Lounges also can’t let people consume alcohol or tobacco in the same venue, they can’t operate within 600 feet of schools, and all cannabis consumption must be out of public view.