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New York Cannabis Consumption Lounge Licensing: A Beginner’s Guide

Discover the innovative concept of a New York consumption lounge, paving the way for a controlled, enjoyable cannabis experience.
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New York’s burgeoning cannabis industry has seen the introduction of cannabis consumption lounges, an innovative concept that allows consumers to enjoy marijuana in a controlled, safe environment. With the evolving legal landscape, one may wonder, “Can I open a cannabis consumption lounge in New York?” or “Is it legal to open a marijuana consumption lounge in New York?” The state’s regulators and lawmakers have been hard at work establishing guidelines to govern such establishments, paving the way for a new era in cannabis consumption.

In 2021, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was passed, legalizing the possession of marijuana and permitting retail sales at licensed dispensaries. The same legislation had also envisaged on-site marijuana consumption lounges. However, a slow rollout meant that only 10 non-medical marijuana dispensaries are currently operating in the state, creating challenges for growers who had accumulated a substantial cannabis harvest in 2022.

Recently, the state Cannabis Control Board convened at the SUNY Morrisville to adopt draft general regulations. Post the public comment period, these regulations are set to form the groundwork for specific rules for cannabis consumption lounges. This move by regulators suggests that enabling consumers to smoke marijuana in controlled settings adjacent to dispensaries could help mitigate public smoking in parks and on sidewalks.

According to Axel Bernabe, chief of staff to the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), they’ve received numerous inventive ideas related to on-site consumption. The aim is to start with what the law permits—a dispensary-based, limited consumption space—and then expand the scope in a more restricted form for those with micro-businesses or dispensary licenses.

“The cannabis consumption lounge offers the opportunity for retail dispensary operators and event coordinators to allow safe spaces for people to relax and consume some of their favorite products. From atmospheres that are similar to bars, pubs, nightclubs, or art galleries but without alcohol; consumption lounges allow operators to cater to cannabis-preferring crowds.” Lucas McCann, CannDelta

The state’s legislature, enacted two years ago, opened up possibilities for licensing consumption lounges, although consumption sites were not included in the round of regulations issued last November. The new draft regulations promise to amplify access for cannabis consumers, addressing growing concerns about public cannabis use by providing more convenient indoor options.

The revised regulations establish pathways for consumption at licensed premises of retail dispensaries, in addition to on-site consumption licenses. Moreover, they grant local governments the ability to designate cannabis consumption areas within their jurisdictions, exempting specific zones from the Clean Indoor Air Act.

The state’s initial focus when opening dispensaries has been on individuals who were negatively affected by cannabis prohibition. Fifty additional conditional licenses were approved, prioritizing social and economic equity. Unfortunately, slow progress has led to illegal stores trying to cash in on the legalization of marijuana possession. As a result, a total of 215 conditional licenses have now been issued by the state.

Bernabe noted that the cannabis industry in New York is “vibrant and moving forward” and reaching a crucial moment. New legislation empowering the cannabis agency and state tax officials to penalize illegal stores will be beneficial. “We have zero tolerance for folks that are trying to get ahead of our equity applicants,” Bernabe stressed.

Consequently, cannabis consumption lounges are set to become a crucial part of New York’s marijuana industry, offering a controlled, comfortable environment for cannabis consumption. Legalization has not only benefited consumers but has also opened up a plethora of opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking to establish their own cannabis business. As we watch this industry evolve, the journey of New York cannabis consumption lounges will continue to serve as an exciting aspect of the state’s cannabis narrative.