Roseann Boffa, the deputy director of LA NORML, points out that most people don’t go into bars just to get hammered. They go for a certain kind of social experience. Remember “Cheers”? “Everyone knows my name.” It’s about community. And whether it’s catching up of family adventures, watching the game, complaining about work or chewing over politics, there are bonds that flower in that setting. Where, we have begun to ask, is the “bar” in cannabis culture? What will it be like?
Bruce Margolin, founder of LA NORML adds a dimension to our imagining of this new convivial setting. He stretches our vision in familiar and surprising directions because Margolin is a yogi. He studied in India and knows a lot about Eastern religions. Seated with a group of city planning commissioners, Margolin waxed poetic about one face of God in the Hindu religion: Shiva, creator and destroyer, is the Destroyer of the Ego. There’s perhaps no greater barrier to enlightenment than our sense of our insular and palpable particularity. We in the West term that concept of Self the ego. Anyone with psychedelic experience can recall the moment when that construct dissolved as they entered what’s been termed the “oceanic.” Dissolving the walls of the ego is at the core of mind-expanding experience through drugs, meditation, asceticism or passionate religious observance. We are not just this fluid bag. We are not just our egos.
Pot can and often does dissolve the illusion of insularity. Here is perhaps the ultimate form of “community” – the surrender of the illusion of Self as we enter the noetic state. And as cannabis consumption is embraced by our communities, there must be places established where – as has long been the case with bars that serve alcohol – those who imbibe can gather with their peers and experience fellowship.
Pot lounges will take many forms. Anyone who’s visited Amsterdam knows one: the coffee shop, usually quite small, with a few tables and people smoking pipes, bongs or joints as conversation hums and music plays. Margolin envisions something more, and it’s worth contemplating as we begin the formal process of licensing these establishments.
Picture a space of 500-800 square feet with low tables and comfortable chairs. Fabrics and art hang on the walls. Soft jazz plays in the background and there’s a melange of scents in the air, marijuana, jasmine, orange blossom. A visitor might find a bean-filled pillow propped near a wall and take a seat. There are still quieter spaces off the main room, cushioned and curtained. In one the visitor can see someone seated upright, humming a devotional song. The visitor decides to join a group that is quietly chanting and enters the enclave. S/he ingests half a cannabis confection and joins the hypnotic melody. You get the picture.
Pot lounges, like bars, won’t be just places to get stoned. They will become places to have meaningful encounters with friends and spaces where Shiva can dance his creative-destructive dance as the ego departs. As a society we badly need places besides Starbucks to feed our spirits and uplift our souls. There will be many flavors of cannabis establishments. This, I hope and expect, will soon come into being. The Soul Shop. Drop in. Turn on. Leave your ego in the umbrella stand.
Margolin and Roseann have for decades envisioned and fought to realize this domain of pleasure and spiritual realization. They understand the many meanings of being “high” and beckon to us to join the ascent. As the Indian poet Rabinadrath Tagore sang, “Into that heaven of freedom/ Let my country awake.”
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News