Cannabis smoking lounges, slow to open in Illinois since marijuana was legalized last year, are starting to get off the ground, as two have opened and more are planned across the state.
In addition to bring-your-own marijuana consumption sites operating in DeKalb and Sesser, plans are in the works to open locations in West Peoria and Carbondale.
Weed remains illegal to smoke in public, such as on the street or in parks, in public buildings, and on private property such as hotels or apartments where property owners prohibit it. The lounges provide a legal place for adults 21 and over to smoke or vape — and create social gatherings to share the experience with friends or acquaintances. The lounges operating so far can’t sell cannabis, so users bring their own.
This summer, the City Council voted to approve zoning for the concept. Investors include Ronald DiGiacomo, founder and vice president of Trinity Compassionate Care Centers, which operates two cannabis stores nearby in Peoria.
High Harbor and Trinity plan their opening event outdoors on the West Peoria site Sept. 10 and 11, featuring vendors, artisans, live art and music, and no on-site sales of cannabis, but bring-your-own consumption.
“The City Council is in full support of cannabis business,” Economic Development Director Steven Mitchell said. “Cannabis has been here since cannabis has been around. Southern Illinois University got a reputation in the 1960s and ‘70s as sort of a hippie town. Lots of folks came from the Chicago area and introduced a new culture to the region, and it has remained.”
When Holly Roeder opened the Luna Lounge in rural Sesser in July, she expected to get some young stoner customers. As she discovered, the clientele turned out to be older — typically over 40, up to 90, most of them medical marijuana patients.
“We get 60- and 70-year-old dudes walking in with their tie dye,” she said. “I love that.”
“It’s so new that people don’t think it’s real,” he said. “They didn’t think anything like this could be possible, especially right across the street from the police station, When we tell them it’s OK, they’re blown away.”
Back in Sesser, population 1,900 and a five-hour drive from Chicago, customer Carla Curry said she can’t smoke at home because it’s publicly subsidized housing, and cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
Curry, a 55-year-old grandmother who previously worked in a boat factory, said she’s had three back surgeries, and has a medical marijuana card.
She says customers share a bond because they have a common treatment for their pains and anxiety. In an area riddled with addiction to methamphetamine, users said cannabis is widely seen as benign or beneficial.
“It damn near killed me,” she said of the Percocet, Xanax and muscle relaxants. Now, she said, cannabis has allowed her to get off all those pills. “It changed my life,” she said.
Chris Duke, a professional licensed cannabis cultivator for IESO, works in his spare time at a converted bank vault in the lounge, showing customers how to use water pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia.
“People are surprised it’s such a chill environment,” he said. “Everybody’s having a good time laughing, having conversation. … People say, ‘Hey, what are you smoking?’ Everybody shares. People actually mingle and talk to other people.”
Impediments remain to opening smoking sites in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal to allow consumption sites remains stalled in the City Council, while state legislation to expand consumption sites and cannabis tours failed to pass last session, but is likely to be reconsidered.