Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.


When cannabis is legalized for recreational use in New Mexico—whether this year or next—the legislation must include provisions that give all individuals the ability to consume in safe spaces, regardless of their circumstances. Legalization would pave the way for finalizing medicinal and recreational smokerooms and provide extra income for the state from what are known as “consumption lounges” or “cannabis lounges.” Around the country government groups and legislators are wrestling with the complications involved in setting them up.

New Mexico authorized consumption spaces for medical cannabis patients during the last legislative session; but with COVID-19 breathing down its neck, the Department of Health hasn’t yet issued rules for the spaces. For patients, tourists and recreational consumers, lounges would create a place to consume even when landlords or hotels refuse to allow consumption in private.

Before COVID-19 and restrictions on social gatherings, consumption lounges were popping up worldwide. Regulations everywhere are currently on hold and will need to be finalized, as the pandemic has proven customer demand remains steadfast in this essential industry. The delay has only increased the appetite for consumption lounges and mainstream social use of cannabis. In the meantime in-state and out-of-state medical cannabis users purchasing cannabis from a dispensary are wondering where, when and how they’ll be able to consume cannabis legally. After all the social distancing over the past year, patients around the state dream of listening to music and cannabis, doing yoga and cannabis, exercising and cannabis, or even just socializing and interacting with other human beings and cannabis.

New Mexico legislatures can look north for examples of how to regulate consumption areas. As Denver’s first licensed cannabis social consumption club and coffee house, the Coffee Joint has been a pioneer in creating a social space to imbibe. It offers cannabis educational events, as well as complimentary coffee and tea, plus snacks, beer and kombucha for purchase. There’s a $5 fee to consume cannabis along with placing your “John Hancock” on a liability waiver. Expect the wave of “social consumption lounges” to explode in the coming years, with consumption spaces offering cannabis tastings while you listen to live music or play video games or just chill.

Carly Wolf, the state policies coordinator at NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), weighed in on the subject, saying, “In most legal states they allow local jurisdictions to allow on-site consumption, however—which is what’s happened in California. From a consumer perspective, though, it’s really important for regulators to look at this and take that step. You get visiting tourists or people in low-income housing, and they sometimes have to choose between freedom to consume and living in their homes.”

While it’s now legal to use cannabis in New Mexico, where to smoke is still a work in progress. Many individuals don’t have the space to safely consume cannabis because they live in public housing, or their landlord won’t allow it, they have kids they don’t want to expose, or they are a visiting tourist from out of state. Visualize renting or buying a smoking device (like a pipe or a bong) while ordering a cold drink, some snacks and coffee. All of this could be available to anyone with a membership or guest pass, all for a small fee. No shotgunning allowed. Come on, legislatures, make it happen so Governor Michele Lujan Grisham doesn’t have to change our Constitution to make it happen.