Regulators approved two cannabis lounges in Alaska early last year, making the state one of the few in the US where customers would be allowed to consume cannabis at retail pot shops. However, the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans in mind.
One of the lounges opened briefly in Ketchikan, but the owner was forced to hit the pause button due to an upsurge of positive COVID-19 cases. The other lounge, located in Fairbanks, is scheduled to open later this year—hopefully.
Records have shown that a small number of other shop owners have filed paperwork signaling plans to seek approval for consumption hangouts, places where customers can smoke cannabis or eat and drink marijuana products, but the pandemic has caused some delays in their efforts as well.
Joe McAneney, owner of The High Expedition Co. in Talkeetna, has long envisioned a two-story lounge behind his shop with a “cigar bar feel” and views of the northern lights and Denali, North America’s highest peak. He recently considered pursuing an interim plan like refurbishing old buses for private parties to gather and partake for a set block of time, but thought better of it.
In an interview with AP News, McAneney said, “To start a new business and to spend money and create a new thing during this time, to me, it’s not very responsible; it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
McAneney hopes to return to his original plan and open for summer 2022.
Although the last year has seen a significant crash in tourist numbers, several cannabis businesses have been able to weather the pandemic thanks to the level of support from locals and independent travelers and online ordering.
Dan Peters, an owner of GoodSinse in Fairbanks, told AP News that he was surprised by how many people were buying cannabis.
“I think maybe even bulk amounts of purchasing were happening,” he said. “I just assume that people are stuck at home and need things to do. That is something fun and doesn’t cause too much trouble.”
Elsewhere in the U.S., a small number of cities, including in California, have authorized cannabis lounges. Chris Lindsey, director of government relations with the Marijuana Policy Project, told StarTribune that on-site consumption is new, and “we don’t know yet if it’s a great business model.”
Lindsey also said that providing a place for people to use cannabis legally has been a driver in the push for these sites.
Brandon Emmett, an executive with Good Titrations in Fairbanks, hopes to open a cannabis cafe on April 20, a date on which cannabis users have long celebrated a love of the leafy green. He believes residents are ready to come out and have things be normal again.
Good Titrations currently suggests patrons wear a mask and would most likely encourage people to wear one in the consumption area when they are not eating, drinking or smoking. While some Alaskan cities are under mask mandates, Fairbanks is not.
Emmett is a former member of the Marijuana Control Board and strongly advocated for rules to allow on-site consumption.