Some might think of a cannabis lounge as being similar to a bar. But lounges can’t legally sell cannabis, and in Arizona, the only people who can smoke there are patients.
The idea of medical cannabis social clubs isn’t new in Arizona. They predate dispensaries due to the lag between the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in 2010 and first official opening of state-licensed retail shops in late 2012.
In lieu of state-licensed cannabis retailers, some entrepreneurs took it upon themselves to provide private spaces where patients could come and share cannabis within the boundaries of the law. Now, these private spaces — for the state’s nearly 200,000 registered patients — can be fully legal under state law, depending on how they’re run.
Todd Romboli, president and CEO of cannabis lounge DommLife at 3121 East Thomas Road, uses the model of a “mini-mall,” where vendors rent space surrounding a chic hangout area with tables and chairs where customers can work or socialize.
It incorporates a “cannabis-friendly” coffee shop, dubbed the “Coughee Shop,” that provides food and drink. Customers can fulfill their CBD and hemp needs with the retail areas called CBD Apothecary and Whitekey Wellness, which both offer a range of products.
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If customers need a trim or a massage, DommLife even has a spa which incorporates CBD products as well. But patients can’t buy medical marijuana there, and there’s no medicating during the day.
Retail wraps up around 6 p.m., and that’s when the lounge becomes a private establishment in which patients can medicate. During these hours, the lounge acts as a venue for private parties like birthdays or events for the cannabis organization WomenGrow.
Like previous cannabis lounges, DommLife offers membership for $100 a year, or $5 a day for patients who want to medicate. But rent and retail sales from the vendors keep the business afloat, Romboli said.
He said the city of Phoenix was “interested” in his business model, but so far he hasn’t run into any problems. He maintains that nothing illegal happens on his property.
Cannabis lounges have tried and failed in Phoenix before, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
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Activist Reverend Allan Sobol and three others were convicted of 10 felonies in 2012 after a raid on his 2811 Club, where undercover officers determined his membership model looked a lot like retail sale of cannabis.
The 420 Social Club in Tucson has had similar issues with police raids and relocations.
In most of these cases, it seems the legal gray area tempted individuals involved to stretch their business model beyond what the law could justify.
Cannabis lounges are more common in California, Colorado, and other states with adult-use laws. Denver has at least a dozen private lounges and event spaces that cater to cannabis consumers. But even in those states, laws remain against casual puffing in public, and the question of just where consumers and patients can medicate, besides the comfort of their own homes, is far from being answered.