In Detail: Marijuana consumption lounges

Much like a bar is an alcohol-consumption lounge where alcoholic drinks are consumed in a public space, marijuana consumption lounges are now popping up across the country with two establishments now open in Michigan. These lounges are designed to be a licensed and safe space for a group of people to consume marijuana, but aren’t without complications and challenges for the communities in which these establishments exist. 

According to an article from Cannabis Legal Group, marijuana arrests often increase in states with legalized cannabis, and typically this spike in arrests is due to an increase in possession-of-marijuana charges because cannabis consumers can rarely consume cannabis legally anywhere but on private property. Recognizing this issue, the Michigan Regulatory Agency (MRA) designed a regulatory structure for cannabis consumption, thus creating a license for designated marijuana consumption establishments. 

Unlike other Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (MRTMA) licenses, a designated consumption establishment license is available to any applicant willing to pursue the project. According to Cannabis Legal Group, “While the license itself doesn’t authorize the owner to sell cannabis products, the license can be held by marijuana retailers, microbusinesses, or anyone wanting to operate a ‘bring-your-own-cannabis’ model. Entrepreneurs hoping to enter the cannabis market, but aren’t interested in growing, processing, or operating a traditional dispensary can utilize the Designated Consumption Establishment license for new business models not often seen in other cannabis markets.”

Licensing requirements for on-site consumption vary widely between states. For example, some states don’t allow the concurrent sale of food or drink (California), limit sales to single-serving “ready-to-consume” cannabis products (Nevada), or are limited to bring-your-own-cannabis (Illinois). Names for these facilities also vary depending on the state and can include “consumption lounge,” “tasting room,” and “hospitality establishment.” 


Michigan is among seven states to allow legal cannabis consumption lounges, with two currently open and operating: Kalkushka in Kalkaska, and Hot Box Social in Hazel Park. According to an article from Crain’s Grand Rapids, 19 municipalities across Michigan have opted into allowing these businesses to varying degrees, and two municipalities have not specified whether they will allow the use at all. Because the risk profile of consumption lounges is still not well understood, regulators and local officials have opted to proceed with caution.

According to a report from Wilson Elser, operators of the handful of existing licensed facilities have faced onerous local restrictions, lack of available insurance, and a higher-than-expected cost of compliance, including expensive air-filtration systems and other nuisance-abatement costs. 

Among the reasons for those proceeding with caution in implementing consumption lounges is the concern regarding liability. Nevada is the singular state who has recently included the same civil liability protections that shield bars and restaurants in the state’s regulations for cannabis lounges, though the general trend across the country appears to be going in the opposite direction.

For example, Michigan recently amended its regulations to expressly allow individuals who are injured or who suffer damage by a minor or visibly intoxicated person to take action against the licensee who sold or transferred the marijuana (Michigan Senate Bill 461). The aforementioned Wilson Elser article states, “The chance of successfully defending a cannabis consumption lounge is far from clear because the law is not developed. How courts will address questions of liability and apportionment in cannabis consumption cases will mature and diverge across jurisdictions.”

Entrepreneurs who want to obtain marijuana designated consumption establishment licenses in Michigan must ensure the following:

  • Get a location approved and supported by the local municipality where they intend to operate the establishment.
  • An identified area suitable for cannabis consumption and smoke-free areas.
  • A smoke-free space for the establishment’s employees to enable them to monitor the entire marijuana consumption area
  • A facility with adequate barriers and walls to ensure that marijuana smoke does not infiltrate into nonsmoking space
  • A facility with a ventilation system in such a way that air from the marijuana consumption areas escapes outside of the building through a filtration system that removes visual smoke and odor

Additionally, when applying for the license applicants must provide the MRA with a designated consumption establishment plan, business plan, a responsible operations plan, waste management and disposal plan, and building, construction, and zoning details. While the criteria may seem extensive, CannaCon argues, “The Designated Consumption Establishment license is truly beneficial to Michigan dispensaries, consumers, and other related businesses, as it will keep the community well within the law. Additional regulations are expected from the MRA as rules are reviewed and feedback is received.”

Driving home

A local concern in Three Rivers where discussions are being held regarding the possible opening of a consumption lounge is the safety and well-being of those driving themselves home under the influence, and then potentially injuring themselves or an innocent bystander.

According to a report from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), drunk drivers are involved in 25% of motor vehicle fatalities, and many accidents involve drivers who test positive for cannabis. Cannabis and alcohol significantly impair several driving-related skills in a dose-related fashion, but the effects of cannabis vary more between individuals than they do with alcohol because of tolerance, differences in smoking technique, and different absorptions of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the active ingredient in marijuana.

“Detrimental effects of cannabis use vary in a dose-related fashion, and are more pronounced with highly automatic driving functions than with more complex tasks that require conscious control, whereas alcohol produces an opposite pattern of impairment. Because of both this and an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies,” the report states.

The study goes on to say epidemiological studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents; in contrast, unanimity exists that alcohol use increases crash risk.

Additionally, when it comes to finding a “legal limit” for cannabis consumption several challenges exist. Alcohol levels are easier to back-calculate to the time of a motor vehicle accident, but the same is not true of THC. THC is highly lipophilic and concentrates in the adipose or “fatty” connective tissue. “Consequently, experimental studies have shown that functional impairment (which reaches a maximum an hour after smoking) lags behind THC blood level (which peaks within minutes and decreases rapidly thereafter),” states the NLM. “This makes it much harder to generate blood level versus impairment curves for marijuana than it is for alcohol.”

While cognitive studies suggest cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested it can have the opposite effect, according to the NLM report. Epidemiological studies have themselves been inconsistent, and thus have not resolved the question. The report concludes that patients who smoke marijuana should be counseled to have a designated driver if possible, to wait at least three hours after smoking before driving, as otherwise marijuana is likely to impair monotonous or prolonged driving, and that mixing marijuana with alcohol will produce much more impairment than either drug used alone. 

Public hearing

A public hearing is set for September 19 at 6 p.m. at Three Rivers City Hall to hear discussions regarding potential marijuana ordinance amendments to the B-3 district in order to allow for the city’s first marijuana consumption lounge. For those unable to make the meeting in-person, the proceedings are available for viewing via Facebook live on Three River’s City Hall’s page. 

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.