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The beginner’s guide to legal weed lounges and public sesh spots

It’s an easy mistake. Cannabis is now legal for adult use in 18 states, so you might assume you can consume cannabis in public, just like you would a cigarette.

Unfortunately, in many states, there’s also a plot twist: legal weed does NOT mean you can legally consume it whenever and wherever you choose.

Sure, you can purchase and possess cannabis in legal states, but legally consuming it has its own set of laws and regulations. The 8,000 dispensaries in the U.S. severely outnumber the number of cannabis smoke lounges or “social consumption” lounges open for communities to safely enjoy their cannabis products.

Anyone who wants to grab a beer or cocktail at a local bar has the protected privilege of safe consumption, yet cannabis consumers still largely lack these crucial venues.

The legacy of cannabis consumption lounges

Birthed in the shadows of Prohibition, cannabis lounges—also known then as speakeasies—have been cultural watering holes and refuges for over a century. As far back as the late 1800s, records show that there were “hashish clubs” or “hemp retreats” established in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

By the 1930s, New York had over 500 “tea pads”, a moniker coined by Black Americans who used these spaces to safely purchase cannabis, listen to live jazz, and privately consume the plant.

The legacy of these secret lounges has evolved into present-day experiences, like Josephine and Billie’s tea pad-inspired dispensary in Los Angeles, that pay homage to cannabis history.

The decor at Josephine & Billie’s is inspired by speakeasies.

In 1994, the San Francisco Buyer’s Club, led by renowned advocate Dennis Peron, served as a community collective that ushered in the Prop 215 era in California.

They not only fought to pass laws, but the San Francisco Buyer’s Club also created accessible means for patients with HIV / AIDS, cancer, or other qualifying conditions to obtain their medical marijuana.


“Even with the rumors of federal legalization around the corner, smoking a joint in public is still very much an act of rebellion that has long been maliciously policed. When we prioritize safe consumption as much as safe access, we center equity and safety for BIPOC & LGBTQIA+ communities.”

— Red Rodriguez, Rolling Stone Culture Council member and former director of vendor relations at West Hollywood’s OG Cannabis Cafe.


Whether it’s Black and Brown communities in the prohibition era or LGBTQ+ activists in San Francisco, social consumption has always provided trusted havens for people to enjoy and consume cannabis.

This remains a relevant issue today, as BIPOC communities are disproportionately targeted by the lack of and nuances of cannabis consumption legislation.

States where social cannabis consumption is allowed

City and state governments play a major role in shaping the consumption regulations within their borders. Generally, legislation has restricted cannabis consumption to private residences. This means those living in apartment buildings or shared communities face difficulties, as landlords have the right to ban smoking within the premises.

As of 2022, ten states have regulations that allow social consumption:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts*
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey*
  • New Mexico
  • New York*
  • Nevada*

*Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Nevada have all passed language for social consumption, but have yet to issue licenses to their establishments. 

But even states with lounges can penalize noncompliance. In fact, smoking in public can still leave you open to a $250 fine in states like California.

In New Jersey, landlords can ban smoking within the property, but cannot prevent residents from consuming edibles or topicals. However, Jersey City and Hoboken have paved the way as the first two NJ cities to approve regulations for social consumption lounges.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Nadir Pearson on Leafly

Published: July 26, 2022

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