BETHESDA - A new business in Montgomery County is marketing itself as the first marijuana smoking lounge in Maryland.
If you’re an adult, grabbing a drink at a bar with some friends is part of life. The Ceylon House in Burtonsville is going after that same concept – but instead of drinks, it's marijuana.
"I also have problems, back problems. So we figured it’d be a nice place to sit down and meet people," says customer Linda Biddy.
Biddy and her friend Karen Holland, who has glaucoma, are both registered medical marijuana patients in Maryland.
"We’ll come in and sit down and relax," said Holland at the Ceylon House Wednesday.
Biddy and Holland followed a number of rules and regulations during their visit to the Ceylon House: they signed a waiver saying they were 21 or older, they're a Maryland resident and a registered medical marijuana patient, and they have to stop consuming 30 minutes to an hour before they leave.
But as the first-of-its-kind marijuana smoking lounge with a grand opening this weekend, the permitting process has been long, extensive and expensive, according to owners Venus Hemachandra and Shreemal Perera.
"Currently, there are no real guidelines for lounges here in Maryland. And so we want to make sure we set the right example here," said co-owner Venus Hemachandra.
Hemachandra and Perera had the idea in 2018 and got to work the following year, but COVID delayed the tenuous permitting process.
"We wanted an official place where everyone knew you could just come, light up, no one’s going to, you know, arrest you for it," said Perera. "Venus and I would go down to the permits office ourselves. We would go down and explain things and say ‘Hey, this is how we intend to do it, what can we do?,' so we were fortunate that they worked with us. But it was a long process."
There were big expenses with opening the business, namely a pricey HVAC system and what Perera called exorbitant insurance premiums. But Perera and Hemachandra plan to use the space where people will pay to come to events, talks, all centered around marijuana and its culture, and give people a space to feel comfortable.
"What we wanted to do was make sure there is a safe space for patients to come in and consume your cannabis, get to know some other people in the cannabis community. It really is meant to be that safe space to come in and meet people and learn a little bit more," said Hemachandra.