The city’s first high-end pot ‘boutique’ – with a $100 membership fee – adds to a growing industry, but is Harvest signaling an end to the days of ragtag hangouts?
Anyone with a medical marijuana recommendation from a physician can browse Harvest on Geary’s minimalist dispensary – but entry into their private lounge will be only for those San Franciscans who can afford it.
Billed as the city’s first high-end pot “boutique”, Harvest will soon be home to “California’s only private cannabis consumption lounge,” where members will be able to relax in mid-century modern chairs and leather settees while watching TV or playing chess, surrounded by art deco-style wood paneling lit up by chandeliers.
The monthly membership fee for the lounge, scheduled to open sometime in September, will be $100. There will also be “an on-site concierge”, according to a press release.
Marty Higgins, Harvest’s owner and an Oakland real estate investor, told the San Francisco Chronicle that approved members would be required to adhere to “certain standards” though he promised to be “as inclusionary as possible”. In an interview with the Guardian on Wednesday, he said that the lounge would have “an industry standard screening process”.
California cannabis has been touted as a multibillion dollar industry for years. But Harvest and its private lounge might signal an end to marijuana’s early days of ragtag hangouts.
Shona Gochenaur, a marijuana advocate, fondly remembers the “good old days” in the clubs of a decade ago.
“You felt like you were in someone’s apartment. It was always packed… someone would light a huge joint for everyone, and you’d leave pain-free,” she says. “What we have is a takeover… patients are being pushed out hard.”
It used to be sick and disabled people in lounges, she added, but “now it’s mostly able-bodied people who aren’t looking at death”.
“It’s OK to have business, but what’s not OK is these stores pushing out cultural centers.”
Even some of Higgins’ fellow pot entrepreneurs are wistful. Nick Smilgys is the co-founder and a former partner in Flow Kana, a farm-to-bowl startup with an emphasis on heirloom strains of marijuana. “I think Silicon Valley dollars and culture are stealing the soul of cannabis,” he said.
It’s a very different scene at Harvest from a year and a half ago, when Harvest was still the Hemp Center.
For more than 14 years, visitors to the Hemp Center dispensary were greeted by red, gold, and green-painted walls, reggae music and a motley collection of regulars who smoked while sitting in mismatched furniture. Whereas the Hemp Center sold messy handfuls of pot from plastic jars, sometimes giving it away, Harvest sells a few grams of name-brand weed for as much as $70, one of the most expensive in the city.
“It was a like a hippie pad from the 1970s,” said David Goldman, a retired mathematics teacher and marijuana advocate.
He says he filed an application for membership at Harvest’s new lounge, but is doubtful many others will line up to join. “Cannabis users, for the most part inSan Francisco, are not incredibly high income.”
Ryan Bush, a co-founder of the Cannaisseur Series, which hosts invite-only cannabis-centric meal events, thinks it might stick though.
“For some people, especially in San Francisco, exclusivity is attractive,” he said. “I think it could appeal to a certain demographic, for sure.”
Higgins defended criticisms of Harvest, saying that the changes are part of “an industry trend to cater to a broader patient audience”.
“We have former patients of the Hemp Center that love Harvest,” he added.
San Francisco has the distinction of hosting California’s only legal marijuana consumption lounges, and, so far, the only US dispensaries where on-site smoking is permitted. In other states where cannabis is legal – including Colorado, Oregon, and Washington – the drug can legally be consumed only in homes, in 420-friendly hotels (of which there are few), in a for-hire limousine or bus or private members-only “clubs” that cannot sell cannabis.
In the years after California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, there was a smoking lounge in nearly every San Francisco cannabis club. Bearded hippies sunk into ancient couches, passing joints to people in wheelchairs and low-income smokers using the lounge as a refuge from their single-room occupancy hotel rooms. The city still has about 30 medical marijuana dispensaries, but the old ones are all almost gone.
After the city enacted rules on permits for dispensaries, only a handful are still permitted to operate a consumption lounge.
And in a few months, California voters will decide on whether to approve Proposition 64, a measure to legalize recreational marijuana that is expected to pass. In the measure, smoking in public would be prohibited, punishable with a $100 fine, though lounges would be permitted.
Possibly seeing the business potential, Higgins has focused on distressed properties already zoned for marijuana use. Using funding from a Shark Tank-like pitch event for marijuana entrepreneurs, Higgins bought the building that housed the Hemp Center, after it was evicted, and then set about transforming it into Harvest. He executed the same plan at another old-school dispensary in the city’s Mission District, evicting the Bernal Heights Collective dispensary from its longtime home in June.
Michael Barbita used to work at the now gone San Francisco Medical CannabisClub.
Now, “the Cheers are gone,” Barbita said, referring to the Boston TV show bar where everybody knows your name. “Instead, it’s a Starbucks.”