The idea that a cannabis lounge may be making its way into Fells Point has spurred controversy and sparked questions about state cannabis laws.
The owners of retro record store Sound Garden have been working to open a members-only medical cannabis lounge in Fells Point for over a year. Co-owner Bryan Burkert, a long time business owner in the neighborhood, hopes to open the lounge with a companion restaurant called Bird on a Wire in the fall. However, despite approval from the Board of Zoning and Appeals, the unique business venture is still pending inspection and undergoing renovations.
Critics have expressed concern, challenging why medical marijuana users would need a social setting to medicate.
“They’re setting up a social club for the use of medicine,” said former Baltimore County's Office of Substance Abuse director Mike Gimbel. “If medical marijuana is supposed to be medicinal, then why do you have a lounge for social use?”
“You don’t socially take your medicine.”
Currently, Maryland cannabis laws states that on site consumption at medical marijuana facilities, like dispensaries and cultivation centers, is prohibited, according to Cannabis Law Practice Group chair Jason Klein. If the lounge passes its final stage of approval, it will be the first in the state and one of a handful in the country.
“This is a very complicated issue,” Klein said. “I’m glad to see that the owners are pursuing it and they’ve made some progress, but I think that there’s still a lot left to figure out before this is going to come to fruition.”
Gimbel anticipates the topic of marijuana legalization will appear on the 2020 ballot. He said that if marijuana is legalized in Maryland, then the presence of cannabis dispensers and lounges will increase.
“We had no actual opposition from city agencies or state agencies,” Burkert said.
He has garnered support from Councilman Zeke Cohen.
“I support anything that moves Baltimore toward legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs,” said Cohen in an e-mail to the Sun.
Fells Point Resident Association president David Martz said that Burket was diligent in attending neighborhood association meetings and forthcoming with information when asked about the project which ultimately led to their decision to support him.
“At the end of the day we had the director of zoning come to our meeting and that’s when it was decided,” Martz said.
The owner of GreenLabs, a medical cannabis dispensary in Fells Point, Demetrius Kafouros, said that although he has never thought of opening a cannabis lounge himself, he fully supports the venture.
“I’m familiar with Bryan’s businesses and he’s very professional,” he said. “If anyone was to do it…Bryan would be the right guy for that.”
Kafouros said that the lounge could be a place that can bring people together who share similar experiences.