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Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It While Sitting In A Lounge In WeHo Someday Maybe

An architect's rendering of The Artist Tree (Photo courtesy The Artist Tree)
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Behold West Hollywood's vision for weed lounges, restaurants and delivery services -- businesses that were granted permission last year by the city to apply for licenses to sling the plant and its extracts in a variety of ways.

The architectural renderings released by the city last year are multi-story, modernist structures with light-filled interiors, trendy furniture and slim, transparent people relaxing in a swanky, skunky scene. Some of the spaces appear to take up entire city blocks.

"Some of the ideas are pretty amazing," says John Leonard, the city's community and legislative affairs manager. "It has evolved into consumption lounges being part of our tourism industry, like our high-end restaurants."

Officials like Leonard hope that the new establishments will put West Hollywood on the map as a leader in the world of leisure cannabis -- but as with many such businesses, there is a lot that still needs to be worked out.

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West Hollywood is among the first cities in the country to attempt to implement cannabis lounges; San Francisco has seven, and Oakland and Denver each have one. In WeHo, the proposed venues are largely high-end spaces where customers can shop for, buy, and -- in some cases -- consume cannabis products onsite legally.

And as with much else in the burgeoning cannabis industry, business owners got creative in crafting their visions.

Lauren Fontein is an owner of The Artist Tree, one of the approved applicants, and describes her company's proposal as something of a smoker's mecca. Should all their plans come to fruition, the three-story space would have one lounge for smoking and one for eating, a restaurant, lots of local art on display, and a small performance space where musicians and comedians could give shows.

"We were thinking, overall, what do people like to do when they are smoking?" she says. "What experiences go hand-in-hand with cannabis consumption? We were trying to create an environment where it wasn't just a lounge where it's smokey and dingy. You could come if you're not planning to smoke, if you're just coming with friends."

Jackie Subeck, the owner of another successful applicant, Door Number Six, paints a picture of a luxury wellness center infused with weed. Her plans include a day spa, a clinic, a cafe and an education center/event space.

"Our goal is to [connect with] the community," she says.

But as you might imagine, opening cannabis lounges -- which are not specifically regulated by the state -- presents legislative and logistical hurdles.

So far, it's evolved like this:

  • West Hollywood officially approved an ordinance to allow these types of cannabis businesses inside city limits in November 2017.
  • The following year, they selected 16 applicants from a pool of more than 120.
  • 36 licenses were handed out (most businesses got more than one license).
  • The types of licenses handed out were adult-use retail, consumption lounge (smoking, vaping, edibles) consumption lounge (edibles only), delivery services, and medical dispensary.

The application process -- as well as the winners -- were met with some controversy. The application fee was so high as to be prohibitive for many would-be entrepreneurs, and the city did not make an effort to prioritize applications from convicted cannabis felons. People of color have historically been arrested for cannabis infractions at a much higher rate.

Those businesses that did end up with a green light to apply for business licenses in the city, begin scouting locations and start executing their plans had ambitious visions across the board.

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The Artist Tree, the only business to be granted all five licenses, envisioned a three-story building with a massive sculpture in the middle of a sun-drenched courtyard.

Essence WeHo, which was granted retail, delivery and consumption lounge (smoking, vaping, edibles) licenses, presented a store that looked more like a high-end steakhouse than a weed shop.

Businesses like this would likely be located throughout West Hollywood. LAist spoke with entrepreneurs who described looking at properties across the Sunset-to-Beverly/Fairfax-to-Doheny area.

Still, there's some confusion as to how these businesses will ultimately operate. For one thing, businesses granted licenses for edibles want to operate restaurants - but they cannot cook with cannabis products, per state regulations.

Cannabis businesses are also required to shut down at 10 p.m., which presents a logistical and philosophical problem.

"I don't think anyone wants to open [a new business] with having to basically start shutting down the kitchen at 9 p.m.," says Kirk Cartozian, a founding member partner at The Antidote, which received an edibles only license.

He's optimistic and hopes that The Antidote will open within "a year, at most." Fontein has similar aspirations for The Artist Tree, noting that she and the other owners "would really like to be open and operating by the end of this year."

According to West Hollywood official Leonard, whatever comes next will represent a massive change.

As he puts it, "No more neon green pot leaves on the front window."