OJAI, Calif. — Imagine a restaurant where you can order dark chocolate infused with cannabis, or where you can pick a pre-rolled joint from a menu and light up at your table. Think of your neighborhood Starbucks or local dive bar, but with marijuana on tap.
It might sound like Amsterdam, but these businesses appear to be part of the next wave of California’s weed industry, which four years after legalization is still looking for ways to compete with the state’s huge illegal pot market.
These cannabis lounges are opening (or reopening, after pandemic closures) in West Hollywood, San Francisco, Palm Springs and elsewhere. And many smaller California cities, including Ojai, a popular destination 90 minutes from Los Angeles, are considering allowing them as a means to increase tax revenue and attract tourists.
“This is pretty obviously the way things are going to go in the future, and I don’t want to be left behind,” Councilman Ryan Blatz said, minutes before the Ojai City Council voted last week to consider allowing cannabis lounges.
The idea isn’t universally popular. Though California voters legalized marijuana in 2016, the law preserved local control, and many officials don’t want weed sold in their communities. Sixty-two percent of California’s cities and counties, including large municipalities such as Bakersfield, Anaheim and Fremont, don’t allow any kind of marijuana retail.
And cannabis lounges in particular raise a litany of new policy questions that probably won’t be easy to sort out, experts say. “These are a totally new frontier,” said Brad Rowe, an adjunct professor of cannabis policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Shortly after California legalized recreational marijuana, the Ojai City Council voted in 2018 to let three dispensaries sell recreational cannabis in the town of 7,500. A scenic valley in Ventura County, Ojai has long been a destination for Southern Californians going wine tasting or indulging in a spa weekend.
On a recent Sunday in the town, some visitors wandered along the arch-lined main drag holding ice cream cones or sipped beers on shady patios. A mile from the crowds, a sandwich board on a desolate road invited drivers to the city’s dispensaries: “Let’s Get Baked.”
Despite being relegated to an industrial area, the three weed shops have delivered hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to Ojai, both from local and out-of-town customers. Jeffrey Kroll, who owns one of the shops, Shangri-La Care Centers, said that 20 percent of his weekend sales come from visitors.
Currently, patrons can buy cannabis products to take home, sort of like a grocery store for pot. But Ojai officials are considering allowing its dispensaries to create spaces in their existing locations where customers can consume cannabis on-site, whether by vaping, smoking or eating edibles. (If you’re wondering, alcohol isn’t allowed at cannabis lounges.)
Port Hueneme, a beach town 30 miles from Ojai, recently became the first city in Ventura County to legalize lounges, and seven states allow them as well, according to Ojai city staff. In other words, lounges could keep Ojai competitive in the tourism game.
“Who doesn’t want to, you know, smoke a joint or two in a hot tub with cucumbers on your face?” said Bob Solomon, a U.C. Irvine professor who studies cannabis law.
But there are a number of complications, experts say. California law restricts indoor smoking, which could preclude customers from puffing on a joint in a lounge. And there are regulations intended to protect employees from working in smoke-filled environments, Rowe said.
He also pointed out that edibles could take hours to kick in, so people could be leaving a weed cafe just as they begin to feel the effects. And then there are all the considerations about where these lounges should be located within a city, and how many is appropriate to have within one community.
This segment of the industry is “in the infancy of its infancy,” Rowe told me. “We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. We’ve got some figuring out to do.”
The New York Times visited West Hollywood’s first cannabis lounge when it opened in 2019.
Lompoc is the first city on the Central Coast to allow lounges.
California may require labels on pot products to warn of mental health risks, KQED reports.
The rest of the news
Vaccines for children: Federal health officials have finally opened the door to Covid vaccinations for children as young as 6 months. But many parents have lots of questions.
High gas prices: California lawmakers announced on Monday the creation of a bipartisan committee to investigate gas price gouging, The Associated Press reports.
Single-use plastics: A state proposal aims to reduce single-use plastic products by 25 percent and could be part of a compromise plan that averts a November ballot measure, The Associated Press reports.
Loitering arrests: California lawmakers sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a bill that would bar the police from making arrests on a charge of loitering for prostitution, The Associated Press reports.
Church shooting: Prosecutors have accused a Las Vegas man of committing a hate crime by killing one person and wounding five in a mass shooting at a Taiwanese American church in Orange County, The Associated Press reports.
Fire in San Bernardino: Investigators are trying to determine the cause of a weekend fire that damaged a six-story building housing county offices, The Associated Press reports.
National gymnasts: Nine Ukrainian gymnasts are training for the next world championship competitions in San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Art museum closes: The California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks closed its doors permanently last Sunday, VC Star reports.
Air quality: San Joaquin Valley’s air district has approved a plan for reducing emissions in the Arvin and Lamont areas to improve air quality, The Bakersfield Californian reports.
Fellowship of Friends: How a religious sect based in the Sierra foothills landed Google in a lawsuit.
Warriors parade: At least 50 people called for medical aid during the Golden State Warriors’ championship parade in San Francisco, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
What you get
$2.9 million homes in California.
What we’re eating
Fourth of July shortcake.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Murray Bolesta, who lives in Tulelake. Murray recommends a small town in far Northern California:
“Most folks speed by this town on Interstate 5. But I loved to stop recently and visit historic downtown Dunsmuir in the shadow of Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County. Dunsmuir bills itself as The Home of The Best Water on Earth, with sport fishing streams within walking distance. It was shaped as a key transportation portal to Oregon, and by logging. On the edge of town, the Sacramento River rushes south in its high-country configuration before it reaches Shasta Lake. The railroad runs along the river and has an Amtrak station to boot. Historic Route 99 also feeds the town, the main north-south artery in the state before the interstate system disrupted things. A campaign to save the town’s California movie theater is underway. Beautiful old homes, most in restored condition, dot this alpine village in a river canyon. What could be better? This: we ate a delicious brunch in the very friendly and highly-rated Cornerstone Cafe.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
Summer is here. What’s your favorite part of the season in California?
Email us at [email protected] with your stories, memories or recommendations.
And before you go, some good news
For the first time since the pandemic began, hundreds of corgis descended on San Francisco’s largest beach for the happiest day of the year: Corgi Con.
Founded in 2014, Corgi Con invites all stubby-legged pups to Ocean Beach to frolic or kick back among their kind. This year, corgis were dressed like pop stars, Baby Yoda and much more, SFist reports.
And it was just as adorable as you’d imagine.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Sinclair who won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (5 letters).
Briana Scalia and Jaevon Williams contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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