When COVID-19 first hit San Francisco last March, legal cannabis operators were quickly given “essential” status by California. This move ensured the industry could continue operating at all levels of the supply chain — with one notable exception: consumption lounges.
Despite state laws requiring licensed cannabis lounges to have top-notch ventilation systems installed, the nature of consumption lounges as indoor spaces where various groups of people come to toke up made them an impossible sell in the midst of a respiratory-borne pandemic.
As a result, San Francisco’s consumption lounges remained shuttered for over a year. Fortunately, as of June 3, at least five of San Francisco’s cannabis lounges are up and running. Per SF Weekly’s Veronica Irwin, Moe Greens and Barbary Coast reopened their consumption lounges May 21, with Mission Cannabis Club and Urbana following suit on May 28.
As one might expect, the reality of COVID-19 has brought with it some new and modified rules of operation.
Cannabis consumption lounges will be checking for proof of vaccination, enforcing 6 feet of social distancing between groups, and “dab bars” — as well as other forms of shared paraphernalia — are mostly on hold for now. Naturally, as rules and regulations continue to evolve, the hope is that spots known for having impressive collections of glassware will once again be able to share their pieces before too long.
For Khader “Al” Shawa, owner of Mission Cannabis Club, this moment marks the long-awaited debut of his impeccably decorated consumption lounge.
Located up a flight of stairs in the rear of Mission Cannabis Club, the spacious enclave features plush booths, an on-hand server to take your order, and even a booth for playing vinyl records. Originally slated to open last year, the lounge is now open to the public (provided people purchase an item from the club to consume) from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day.
“And we’re still finalizing our membership program,” Shawa notes, “which will include perks like access to personal lockers where you can keep your purchases between visits.”
In terms of visitor volume, Shawa says the weekend crowds are getting fairly impressive, up to 15 to 20 people at a time, especially since Mission Cannabis Club’s lounge was able to return to full capacity on June 15. At the same time, he conceded that many regular customers are still learning that the lounge is, in fact, open.
“People keep coming in to pick stuff up,” he says, “and then noticing the lounge is open while they’re there. They usually can’t stay right then but a lot of them promise that they’ll be back real soon.”
In the near future, Shawa says he plans to begin offering relevant events, like a joint-rolling class, in the lounge. Looking further out, he detailed that his sights are set on a prospective September opening for his newly-approved next dispensary at 2424 Polk St.
“One thing I can promise you,” he adds, “is that every dispensary we open will be one-of-a-kind, and they will all have lounges.”
Business also appears to be slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels for the lounge at Moe Greens. Unlike the lounge at Mission Cannabis Club, which Shawa confirmed will not feature a dab bar even when safe to do so, Moe Greens prides itself on offering a wide-array of paraphernalia for its guests to enjoy while on-site.
They’ve been able to keep that reputation going, thanks in part to efforts like soaking their dab rigs in 97 percent isopropyl alcohol between each customer.
According to Nate Haas, CEO of Moe Greens, things have been getting “steadily busier” since the lounge reopened.
“Considering where we were a year ago,” Haas says, “opening cannabis lounges didn’t seem like something that would happen for years, so to have lounges open this early is an incredible lift for the industry as well as the city.”
In terms of how the vibe has been for customers returning to Moe’s lounge, Haas has a cautiously optimistic outlook on the process thus far.
“People are definitely feeling more comfortable being out in social settings,” he says. “With the encouraging vaccination rates, we expect to be back in full swing soon.”
But even with some customers’ warranted reluctance to jump back into the river full stream, Haas reports the familiar sights and smells of a consumption lounge in action are most definitely returning.
“The vibe has been great. The lounge is a very optimistic place. People are starting to feel some normalcy, so it’s been very cool to see our regulars coming back, hanging out, smoking joints, doing dabs, and shooting the shit.”
As of now, there are still a few lounges that have yet to reopen.
Reese Benton of Posh Green confirmed she plans to open a cafe-style lounge under an already-approved in mid-July while a representative for SPARC declined to provide an update on when its Mission Street location — and lounge — may reopen.
Zack Ruskin covers cannabis for SF Weekly. Twitter @zackruskin