Monetizing Cannabis: Is Legal Public Consumption the Future for Bars & Clubs?

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Society’s stance on cannabis has been changing steadily. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Of course, that fueled debate and also strengthened the calls to legalize marijuana throughout the United States. Just 5 years ago, Washington became the first state in America to decriminalize the recreational use of cannabis, with Colorado following quickly. Clearly, we are now living in a much more cannabis-friendly culture. Those who have a relationship with marijuana feel more comfortable talking about it publicly, just like those who have a relationship with alcohol.

In the not so distant future, people will consume cannabis publicly and socially. In some places, bar and nightlife venues will allow guests to enjoy marijuana products legally. The 2017 Nightclub & Bar Show presented a panel discussion entitled “Monetizing Cannabis” that addressed this topic specifically. Moderated by Ricardo Baca, contributing editor for The Cannabist, the panel was made up of Freddie Wyatt, president of Munch & Company, Tripp Keber, CEO of Dixie Brands, Pitkin County (think Aspen, CO) sheriff Joe DiSalvo, and Evan Marder, COO of Matrix MMJ. This cannabis-positive discussion delved deep into the legal, economic, and bar business elements relevant to operators today and in the future.

Watch the video of the the 2017 Nightclub & Bar Conference and Trade Show session "Monetizing Cannabis."

Addressing the economy of legal cannabis, experts have predicted that the industry will be worth $20.2 billion by 2021. That’s just 4 short years. To help put that in perspective, Aspen alone is selling $9 million of cannabis per year. However, the city hasn’t given anyone anywhere to smoke or vape it legally; as of the publishing of this article, consuming cannabis in public in Aspen is illegal. Denver, on the other hand, has introduced legislation for the consumption of cannabis in public venues, so that’s a city to watch.

So, what if that legislation passes? As of now, those who hold liquor licenses cannot also hold a cannabis license. If they could hold both simultaneously, should operators plan for and allow the consumption of cannabis? One may believe that everyone on the “Monetizing Cannabis” panel is all for usage at bars, but that isn’t the case. Sheriff DiSalvo is not a fan of mixed use, saying during the panel presentation that he thinks “alcohol gives cannabis a bad name.” Marder believes that it will take several years before cannabis can be consumed in bars, and he wants to see the results of studies to find out whether or not mixed use is safe before it’s permitted.

As you’ll learn from watching the video, the panel takes the public use of cannabis seriously and wants the public to know that the cannabis industry is operating responsibly. In fact, the cannabis industry looks to the bar industry as a model, adopting a similar three-tier system: cultivators, manufacturers and retailers. The key for responsible public consumption in bars and other venues will be finding a way in which these two industries are going to intersect and ultimately complement one other.

The fact is that cannabis, regardless of the current administration’s hardline posturing, isn’t going away. It isn’t going to be driven back under ground. Rather, the opposite is true: the concept of legal cannabis consumption is being embraced more and more. Understanding the inevitable means being prepared for what’s coming, and that means education and training similar to TiPPS is a necessity and a logical next step for operators.

As far as what the future holds, the panel had some interesting ideas. Wyatt envisions quite the cannabis utopia. In his perfect world, you’ll land in a city and your hotel room will be stocked with single joints, grinders, bongs, and other marijuana accoutrement. There will be cannabis-focused promotions hosted by lounges, clubs, bars, restaurants, and even pool parties. Marder sees Las Vegas becoming the Amsterdam of the West. In his opinion, Colorado was the launch pad and Las Vegas will be the catalyst for innovation and the growth of the legal cannabis industry. He also thinks that Big Alcohol will be cannabis product manufacturers’ boss down the road, with Big Tobacco and even large nightlife groups playing that role. Overall, however, the panel sees an America where the stigma of cannabis usage has basically disappeared. If Colorado was the launch pad and Las Vegas is the catalyst for legal consumption, the bar and nightlife business will be the arena. The time to prepare is now.