Cannabis lounges aren’t just social places to toke up — they are a sacred local tradition and a piece of San Francisco’s history of pioneering drug policy.
When Dennis Peron opened the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club in 1994, it was more than a forward-thinking meeting place for the Castro’s most stoned political activists. The SFCBC offered a glimpse of the landmark changes in cannabis legalization that would soon come to the Golden State.
It was here, at 1444 Market St., that medical patients, many of whom were suffering from AIDS, gathered together in something like a sensimilla salon: smoking, socializing, and organizing years before medical marijuana was legal in California. Though a series of federal raids and police pressure forced the cannabis lounge to close in 1998, it was here that the pioneers of medical cannabis conspired to pass America’s first law legalizing cannabis possession, California’s Prop 215.
Since 1998, several other cannabis lounges have opened and closed in San Francisco. And though in recent years they had become a thriving attraction for both tourists and locals alike, the pandemic disrupted business significantly. Urban Pharm, one of San Francisco’s oldest lounges, was also one of many businesses lost to COVID-19. Others, like the consumption lounge at Hunters Point’s new Posh Green Dispensary, had to delay its opening until this summer. All consumption lounges were forced to close when San Francisco first instituted a citywide Stay At Home order on March 17, 2020.
Luckily, five of San Francisco’s cannabis lounges have returned: Barbary Coast and Moe Greens in the Mid-Market neighborhoods, Mission Cannabis Club, and Urbana’s two lounge locations on Geary and in the Mission.
For Brownie Mary Democratic Club President David Goldman, the reopening of cannabis lounges is about more than history — it’s political. “It’s not legal to smoke in public, or even to consume a brownie in public, and many people live in apartments where they can’t smoke because there’s a no-smoking rule or they’re in federal housing,” says Goldman. “There are practically no places in California, statewide, where you can smoke cannabis legally aside from lounges.”
Moe Greens and Barbary Coast’s lounges opened May 21, one day after updated guidelines were released by the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The guidelines permitted the opening of cannabis lounges, as well as larger outdoor and indoor conferences and receptions, performances, and personal training. Mission Cannabis Club and Urbana reopened their lounges on May 28.
The lounge reopenings, however, come with additional rules. Each requires proof of vaccination, per the city’s requirements, and customers must maintain 6 feet of social distance between groups. Many who call the city’s cannabis lounges “dab bars” because of the shared dab rigs they were known for will also be disappointed — both Barbary Coast and Urbana are holding off on offering any shared paraphernalia. Moe Greens still has dab rigs available which are soaked in 97 percent isopropyl alcohol between each customer. Mission Cannabis Club plans to offer shareable, sanitized paraphernalia in the future, but is currently holding off.
The three lounges are also still following their most onerous rules: whatever you plan to smoke during your session must be purchased on-site, day-of. While there’s no entry fee, customers should also remember to bring a legal ID.
These, of course, are not the city’s only cannabis lounges. On May 19, Posh Green announced via Instagram that its permits had been approved, advising fans to “stay tuned.” SPARC’s location on Mission Street, which has a lounge, is still closed as it has been throughout the pandemic. Additionally, the reopening plans for Green Door appear to still be unclear: though they posted on Yelp two months ago that they hoped to re-open the lounge, no updates are available online and they did not respond to requests for comment.