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The Praire State’s residents rejoiced after Illinois lawmakers approved their first marijuana lounge, just hours away from Chicago. A Springfield cannabis dispensary was the first in the state to receive approval from the city council for social cannabis consumption at their marijuana lounge. Illinois Supply and Provisions plans to connect the space to their dispensary in downtown Springfield.

Expectations Are Huge

While there’s no set opening date for the state’s first social consumption lounge, residents and cannabis advocates are excited for an exclusive space dedicated to marijuana users. Spokesman Chris McCloud told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s going to be more than just a big open room where people can smoke cannabis. It’s going to be well done, it’s going to be tastefully done, and it’s going to be an experience.”

Illinois’ recreational market has already been an astounding success from the get-go. Illinois recreational shops sold more than $19.7 million in the first 12 days of sales. The feverish demand for recreational marijuana has no signs of slowing down. Currently, multi-state operator Illinois Supply and Provisions has a second dispensary in Collinsville. It plans to open two more adult-use-only shops in Fairview Heights and Springfield in 2020.

Social Consumption Is Stifled

Illinois’ recreational sales started at the beginning of 2020, but the adult-use law does not permit residents to smoke in public areas such as parks and on the street. Landlords are also legally allowed to prohibit marijuana smoking at their apartment, condominium, or home. Local municipalities are allowed to enact unique policies regulating public consumption.

Pot smoking restrictions around the state are still unclear, but generally, they are stricter against marijuana than tobacco smoke. Under public consumption laws, users can’t smoke marijuana outside an office building, for example. Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, however, did believe users would be able to smoke cannabis legally on their own front porch.

Marijuana lounges could also benefit travelers looking to unwind. Springfield Alderwoman Erin Conley said, “We do have a lot of tourists, we’ve already seen a fair amount of out-of-town visitors coming to our dispensary, and we have a lot of hotels downtown where people cannot consume. I thought it was better to have a place… for people to reasonably partake in something that’s legal in Illinois.”

Chicago’s Unsure About Marijuana Lounges

Chicago residents are able to smoke marijuana on their balconies or backyards, a considerable advantage over other municipalities, which restrict marijuana consumption and sales altogether. Chicago’s policymakers, however, aren’t too keen on setting up a marijuana lounge industry at the moment. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to allow shops to receive on-site consumption licenses was stalled earlier in the month.

Mayor Lightfoot’s plan would allow tobacco stores, hookah lounges, and other similar locations to receive licenses for on-site cannabis consumption. Fellow aldermen voiced their concerns that the proposal would turn the locations into a “party magnet.” Residents and lawmakers believe marijuana lounges could attract criminal activity.

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The mayor’s plan restricts marijuana consumption to tobacco shops that make 80 percent of revenue from tobacco-related products. Retailers would have to pay a steep $4,400 every two years to maintain the license. High upfront costs and the stigma associated with cannabis use may scare-off tobacco businesses who want the new license.

Social Consumption in Illinois and Beyond

When Illinois’ recreational law passed in the spring of 2019, restaurants, bars, and other venues were set to apply for social consumption licenses. Lawmakers, however, backtracked in November to restrict on-site consumption to dispensaries and special smoke shops. These establishments would be exempt from the Smoke Free Illinois Act.

Marijuana lounges and restaurants that offer on-site consumption are a new phenomenon that is gradually becoming more common in the states. In October 2019, America’s first-ever licensed marijuana restaurant opened. Lowell Cafe opened to excitement in West Hollywood, California providing a chic atmosphere for patrons to enjoy cannabis-infused edibles, joints, drinks, and more.

Quasi-legal marijuana smoking establishments have been thriving for years in certain cities in Europe, namely Amsterdam and Barcelona, with their coffee shops and cannabis clubs, respectively. The need to provide a safe and relaxed space for marijuana consumption has made its way to America, as well. Cannabis lounges can now be found in San Francisco, Denver, and Worcester in Massachusetts and more locations to come around the country.

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Illinois’ dramatic start to the new year has many advocates and lawmakers hopeful about the future of the industry and the safety of the residents. The first marijuana lounge in the state will become a model for the retailers that follow suit. Multiple municipalities including Buffalo Grove, Mchenry, Praire Grove, Prospect Heights, Berwyn, and Manhattan will outlaw on-site consumption but still allow recreational sales.

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