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For more than two years, San Francisco’s consumption lounges have been unable to fulfill their duties.

Closed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic’s arrival in March 2020, these licensed smoking spaces were understandably considered a major risk with a respiratory-borne illness spreading across the globe, leaving them shuttered for two truly seismic years of cannabis industry activity and expansion in California and across the U.S.

Except for one brief effort at reopening in June 2021 (which is to say, just before the Delta variant of Covid-19 rewrote the safety equation all over again), consumption lounges have sadly been strictly off-limits in San Francisco — until now.

As first reported by SFist, San Francisco got a whole lot smokier on Wednesday, Feb. 16, following word from the SF Department of Public Health that restrictions on smoking cannabis in licensed lounges were to be lifted immediately. Decided in conjunction with a far more wide-reaching order to remove indoor mask restrictions in the city, this weed-specific addendum sparked some serious local joy.

During a meeting of the San Francisco Cannabis Oversight Committee on the same day local lounges were authorized to fire back up, DPH liaison Mohammed Malni confirmed the restriction had been removed.

“All of the permitted cannabis consumption lounges were notified yesterday of the restriction being removed from the current health order,” Malni said. “They were all very happy about that. And I’m sure people are actively consuming as we speak right now.”

To underscore the importance of having consumption lounges back, one needs only to examine current California law.

As things stand, it is still against the law to consume cannabis in public. How then are those without a home or residence where cannabis can be safely consumed expected to enjoy their purchases? Naturally, there are plenty of cannabis-infused products that can be consumed discretely, but for those who prefer rolling their own, dabbing, or smoking from glassware, the solution is to hit up a consumption lounge.

SFist confirmed that folks were indeed consuming as Malni spoke.

Moe Greens — a prominent dispensary in SF’s Civic Center region with three unique consumption lounge spaces — quickly posted a message on their website acknowledging the news. The Inner Richmond shop Urbana on Geary (formerly Harvest) likewise opened their lounge on Friday, Feb. 25. A budtender confirmed to AMMA that the response from Urbana customers has been “very enthusiastic” so far.

California is one of six states that currently have cannabis consumption

Looking beyond San Francisco, California is one of six states that currently have some form of on-site cannabis consumption lounges approved. But approval, of course, is far different from the doors being open on a sweet new place to blaze a bowl.

In Michigan, efforts to get consumption lounges open remain a work in progress but there does appear to be some promise on the horizon.

Located in Hazel Park, Hot Box Social hopes to become the first licensed consumption lounge to eventually open in the Great Lakes State. Sandy Aldrich, chief marketing officer for Hot Box Social’s parent company, Trucenta, told the Detroit Metro Times that the lounge was holding on “one more approval.”

In the interim, Hot Box Lounge has reportedly been making the most of their wait by hosting non-consumption events at the space, with an eye towards even doing some wedding receptions and bachelor parties until there’s been final confirmation on consumption lounges getting the green light. As a reminder, recreational cannabis has been legal in Michigan since 2018.

Meanwhile, there’s a new voice in Atlantic City also pushing for his state to support consumption lounge regulations.

During a virtual meeting of New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission last week, Kashawn McKinley, director of constituent services for Atlantic City, asked state cannabis regulators “to consider large-scale consumption areas within the city,” according to the Press of Atlantic City.

Not all talk of consumption lounges was positive as the Press of Atlantic City story also notes that a doctor from the University of California’s Center for Tobacco Control, Research and Education told the commission that even “low levels of exposure to smoke” — including the smoke from cannabis — “can be dangerous.” Given the limited dataset we have to analyze on consumption lounges, it can’t be argued that proceeding with caution is a wise approach.

Nonetheless, McKinley argued that consumption lounges should be accessible because some individuals in public housing could face eviction as a result of having nowhere safe to consume. Essentially, McKinley’s position is that safe consumption sites should be seen not as a luxury, but as a necessity.

“If it is illegal to consume in public housing and in public, then cannabis is still illegal for an entire sector of our community,” McKinley said during the meeting.

As for when New Jersey will finally get around to actually allowing adult-use sales to start, the state’s previous deadline of February 22 has passed but Gov. Phil Murphy noted last week that he hopes to see the market launch in March.