VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – For Frank Carite, there’s a sense of liberation with every puff now that recreational marijuana is legal.
“It feels great to join the other states that have legalized it medicinally and recreationally,” said the Chesapeake man.
At Queen’s Green Apothecary in Virginia Beach, Carite and others 21 and older can boldly light up safely and free from judgment.
“It’s nice to have a safe place to go other than home to be able to smoke at,” Carite said.
The safe place is known as a "Cannabar," one of the first of its kind in Virginia.
Queen’s Green Apothecary owner Nick Rocha said the Alice in Wonderland-themed smoking lounge is for those who vape or use weed.
“As opposed to an alcohol bar, it's a cannabis bar where people can come and enjoy marijuana,” he said. “Similar to a bar where you go and drink, you’re just enjoying a different type of drug, and that’s full-blown marijuana.”
Rocha opened the lounge last Saturday, two days after July 1, when pot became legal in Virginia.
“People can come in here; they can bring their own weed in here that's full-blown THC,” said Rocha. “We just can't sell it, but they can come and enjoy the Cannabar.”
According to Virginia Beach Police, marijuana legislation is similar to laws for alcohol. You can smoke weed inside a private establishment like Queen’s Green Apothecary, just as if you were in a bar drinking, but you can't be in public at the beach or on the sidewalk, for example, and light up.
“It’s better than alcohol,” said Carite. “I could say no worse, but it’s better than alcohol.”
Rocha owns the CBD and vape shop that’s attached to the smoker’s lounge.
“We’ve got everything from edibles, to gummies, to flower and bud; CBD, CBG, CBN - everything up to the legal limit of .3% THC,” Rocha said. “We’ve got different strains of cannabis that people can come and smell and take a look at.”
Rocha said he wanted to create the 4,000-sq. ft. Cannabar so people can smoke responsibly while enjoying live music, drag queen shows and stand-up comedy.
“What we wanted to do is provide a safe place for people to come enjoy themselves, but do it in a safe, responsible way,” he said. “We're carding people when they come in here. We want to make sure that they have a safe ride home, whether that's Uber or a designated driver, and we want them to walk away with a fun, memorable experience.”
Legal sales of pot don’t start until 2024.
Rocha is hoping to become a licensed dispensary when that part of the law if more defined.
In the meantime, Virginia Beach Police said they’re still figuring out the law as they go because there is a lot of room for interpretation. According to Public Information Officer Linda Kuehn, they’ll soon be discussing with the Commonwealth's attorney how to enforce the law.