A budtender describes the experience of working in a cannabis consumption lounge.
On Nov. 8, 2016 California voters decided they were ready for recreational cannabis. What many who cast their ballots in favor of legal access may not have realized is that their decision would not fully come into effect until January 2018, when licenses for recreational adult cannabis can be acquired by pre-existing as well as new dispensaries and collectives. In preparation of the impending changes in legislation and in anticipation of a growth of patronage, many dispensaries have made the necessary changes for compliance ahead of time. My place of work, Barbary Coast Collective, began its transition from a single, communal register to individual point of sale systems on Jan. 1. In March, our vaporizing and smoking lounge opened. Then, we made the most polarizing change: we began prepackaging our cannabis.
I joined Barbary Coast in October 2015, and the first part of my orientation was how to calculate and weigh out the flowers on a personal scale based on the patient’s needs: they could ask you for “an eighth” or they could ask you for “$5” worth; they could want a quarter ounce of top shelf and a half ounce of mid but only $32 worth of something else. Amidst this math the patient and budtender had time to chop it up and share tastes, something the sealed bag whittles down to a beep on the scanner. Patient and budtender interaction at the bar is fractioned, but a new setting is underway.
Under Proposition 64, adults 21 years of age or older can possess and use cannabis safely and legally for recreational purposes, but here’s the problem: They have almost nowhere to use it. Since it is still illegal and subject to a fine to smoke in public and in most buildings, lounges are one of the few sanctioned spaces for current medical patients and future recreational users. Progress in opening lounges where patients can use and enjoy their medicine, or “medicate,” on site has been sporadic, with no more than six dispensaries of more than 20 storefronts in San Francisco (some now defunct) offering a legal, designated space, and most of them are not equipped or permitted for the use of concentrates such as hash oil or open-flame flower smoking. Our lounge is founded on the desire to promote medical marijuana as classy, while maintaining a high standard of safety as well.
Barbary Coast Collective recognizes the distance between what lounges were and what they could be. There are no other lounges in San Francisco, or the Bay Area, for that matter, that have a dab bar with electric quartz nails and vaporizers at every table. Like the speakeasys of yesteryear, Barbary Coast offers you the bar for a quick dab on the go or leather-laden booths perfect for reclining and watching TV (yes we have TVs).
As it turns out, most people love to twist something up or pack or a bowl and decompress, be it early morning, a 5 p.m. Golden State Warriors game, or 9:30 p.m. on a Monday. Day in and day out I shepherd happy patients into the velvet paisley, stained glass-covered room neighboring our original club space. For many, this is the first lounge they have ever seen and everyone says it is the nicest. To keep it that way, new operating procedures need to be written that include new expectations. San Francisco is full of characters, to put it calmly, and was a destination for 25.1 million tourists last year. Soon we as budtenders, specialists and connoisseurs will be helping an influx of adults seeking relief for medical symptoms with medicine they could not previously get, but we will also be accessible to adults who have never smoked in their lives and don’t know what a vaporizer or an edible is.
The relationship will continue to evolve. While in the main room patients making purchases at the bar are limited to 15 minutes, the lounge offers a stark change of pace and new opportunities to inquire and talk to staff without the pressure of the next person in line. The lounge is for decompressing, and decompression for downtown San Francisco starts at 8 a.m. when we open. Whether starting their work day, waiting for a class to begin or getting off the graveyard shift, cannabis users deserve a safe haven at all hours. I have spoken to patients living with cancer, MS, and behavioral disorders among other conditions, who once I carb cap the dab they bought or guide them through a vaporizer tutorial, no longer need the cane they walked in with.
Facilitating patients’ medication is a far more intimate experience than a transaction in the club’s main room. Patients’ experiences now go beyond the bar, where we as staff can see in real time what our guidance and advice yields. Most patients are relieved to have a safe space, as most are restricted by Area 19 health codes from smoking in their homes or public spaces, despite these codes’ original intent to limit tobacco use. Most people who have been using cannabis for a while have been doing so furtively, or alone. In such proximity, patients from all over the Bay Area, North America and the world can come together over something they have in common. Conversations are instigated by even the oldest of questions: “What are you smoking?” Only now it could also be “What are you dabbing? Here, try this one.” I have seen people move tables, share medicine and buy individual dabs for strangers, because they felt comfortable and inclined to do so.
With the consumption area patients can not only relax and fully enjoy their medicine on quality equipment in a quality space, but the area also facilitates open dialogue and education that, due to time and space constraints, could not previously exist. Our demos with concentrate companies and flower providers can all be sampled in real time, and patients get hands-on experience with the products. I have seen patients be able to confront cannabis myths or misconceptions with educators with enjoying a smoke in the lounge. Our challenges moving forward stem from lack of pre-existing guidance. We are still working through growing pains and fully realizing what a space like the lounge can do for California cannabis. For now our goals are simple: clean medicine in a safe, comfortable space.
TELL US, have you ever smoked in a cannabis lounge?