I've sometimes wondered what the cannabis lounge of the future will be like when cannabis connoisseurs don't have to sneak around and keep their pleasure on the down low. Will it have the typical bar and lounge look? Will it look like a coffeehouse? Will it have a psychedelic feel? Will there be overstuffed chairs providing something soft and comfortable for customers to settle back into? Will there be ferns at the windows while patrons sip chai?
I've been to a place in Holland where there was a guy selling hash from a table in the back of a regular bar but never saw any place that was specifically catering to a specific cannabis atmosphere.
That's why I found it so intriguing to hear that the Higher Limits vape lounge had opened up across the river in Windsor. A public place for medical marijuana patients to medicate is pretty much out of the question over here. Actually it's pretty rare anywhere. And the 6,000-square-foot space at 251 Ouellete Ave., is touted by partner Jon Liedtke as the largest such place in North America, or possibly the world.
The space is a former bar and it pretty much looks like a bar, except there are not bottles of liquor on the shelves. As a matter of fact, there is no liquor allowed inside, as a large poster near the front entry announces. There are guitar-pick shaped tabletops (left over from the former bar space) in the middle of the long room and padded booths along one side. The bar sits at one end of the room and a stage at the other. Not-so-loud rock and electronic dance music create an atmosphere where you can choose to groove to the beat or have a conversation with friends.
You have to be 18 and a medical marijuana patient to enter, though no one's checking your papers at the door because Canadian law prevents that. You have to be 19 to use a vaporizer. There's a head shop counter near the front door where papers, pipes, and other paraphernalia can be purchased. And just in case your throat gets dry there is an array of sodas and teas available for purchase. There are also some snack items available in case the munchies hit.
It's Windsor's first and only medical marijuana vape lounge, and it's right in the middle of downtown. There is no cannabis sold there, but the $5 (I assume Canadian) entry fee allows anyone with a medical certification to come in and consume their own cannabis at their leisure without having to look over their shoulders. It also allows one to use one of several volcano vaporizers in the house, or one of the units for oils. Joints, pipes, and one-hitters are allowed. Or you can bring your own bong.
Liedtke says the Higher Limits owners are trying to figure out a system where people can rent lockers to keep their bongs in so they don't have to carry them around. You just can't bring your own bong water in.
Speaking of no water, there is a list of no-no's near the door and posted in various places about the room, and in the restrooms. No alcohol, no tobacco, no blunts or poppers, no drugs (such as coke, heroin, or meth). No selling marijuana. No drunks.
"Respect, that's the only way this place can work," Liedtke says. "We need to be on a very transparent basis with the police. ... We want to be a strong corporate citizen, a business just like every other business on this street." The day I went over was their 11th day in business. The night before, the comedy duo Kenny vs. Spenny had performed on the stage and nearly 300 people bought tickets at $39 or $49 a pop.
That's a big difference from the approximately 125 people Liedtke says come in on a given day. But it's programming that will bring in the customers. There will be bands. Liedtke plays trumpet in a punk rock band called Nefidovs, so he knows music. The Overtime jazz trio will perform on Wednesday evenings through February.
He has plans to put in an arcade with actual pinball machines. There will be a pool table, yoga classes on Saturday mornings, hair stylist events, education about cannabis.
"I'm re-creating what I wanted in my childhood," Liedtke says. "It's like my tree house."
He also sells advertising for the Windsor Independent alternative paper, but admits that working at Higher Limits, "is a lot more fun."
Liedtke and his partners have half an eye to the future. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected last year with a platform that included cannabis legalization and has instructed his ministers to figure it out. If a place like Higher Limits can walk the fine line of what's currently tolerated and stay open, there may be great possibilities when prohibition is repealed.
"We don't know what legalization will look like under Justin Trudeau," Liedtke says. "It's going to take at least 18 to 24 months. That's the optimistic estimate. But I'm excited to be part of our industry on the ground floor. The days of cannabis users being hidden in a closet are past. We're the first of our kind.
"We're willing to talk openly about cannabis. Obviously the times are changing. Cannabis is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry and there's no reason to leave it to bad people. It's really about ending the stigma. It's incredibly hard; nobody should feel any form of discrimination for being a medical user."
Americans are welcome to come in. Although bringing your own bud across the border is a very dangerous proposition.
There will no doubt be marijuana lounges in the future on both sides of the border. What they look like will probably be as varied as the places people now go to drink alcohol or have coffee. The difference is there will probably be a bud list. And they will be catering to the cannabis users rather than chasing them away.
Legislative legalization in Vermont
Vermont, the Green Mountain State, may soon be the green bud state. The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older. The bill has to go to the full Senate and then to the state House.
Vermont is already a medical marijuana state, and the plant was decriminalized there in 2013, but there is no legal growing or distribution system there. The general plan there is to have special stores where it can be purchased.
Most loosening of marijuana laws has been through citizen initiatives. Vermont is at the front end of an emerging trend of legislatures seeing which way the wind is blowing and getting on board so they can have some control of what legalization will look like in their state.
Fries with that?
Folks around here have nixed the idea of marijuana being available at a drive-through facility, but that's what's happening in Oregon. The city of Gold Beach, a former timber boom town, is allowing the first dispensary with a drive-through window. It's not clear whether edibles will be sold at the facility, which owners say was deliberately located near a hospital so patients can easily find an alternative to prescription painkillers.
Pres says no
There has been plenty of speculation that President Barack Obama (who admittedly got high as a teenager) might reschedule marijuana or do something significant in easing prohibition. Well the president has said that marijuana is not on the list of his end-of-term priorities. I guess that says it all.