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Ceylon House, Maryland's first cannabis lounge, operates in legal limbo

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Marijuana lounges are catching on in places where recreational marijuana is now legal. They're places where people can smoke pot in public and in the company of others. Maryland is currently in the process of legalizing marijuana. But as Scott Maucione of WYPR reports, the state's first cannabis cafe operates in a legal gray area.

SCOTT MAUCIONE, BYLINE: From the outside, Ceylon House looks like a medical office building. It has a brick facade and shares its space with a dentist and a hair-braiding studio. But once you open the door, a glass case of colorful bongs greets you as a DJ blasts reggae music. People are chatting and sharing joints. And the distinctive smell of marijuana permeates the air. Ceylon House is Maryland's first cannabis lounge. And inside, patients with medical marijuana cards can smoke, play board games and rent paraphernalia. There's no food or beverages sold on the premises, but a food truck is just a few yards away for those who get the munchies. Gloria Jones is 80 years old, in a wheelchair and smoking a joint.

GLORIA JONES: I'm very surprised at how it is, but it's great.

MAUCIONE: The lounge has swinging chairs and vendors showing off smoking products.

JONES: Just to be able to come out and socialize with, you know, other people who are doing the same thing that you like to do.

MAUCIONE: Jones is sitting with Sherry White, a middle-aged woman who's also a medical patient.

SHERRY WHITE: I'm constantly in pain, and so I don't really go out at all. I really like this. I really do. I'm glad it's the place to socialize and take your medicine, as well.

MAUCIONE: White says the lounge gives people like her an opportunity to get out of the house while still dulling their pain.

WHITE: You don't have to be in your bedroom, cooped up like me.

MAUCIONE: Ceylon House operates in legal limbo. Cannabis lounges aren't technically illegal in Maryland, but they aren't legal, either. The state voted to legalize recreational marijuana in November, but the marketplace won't open until July. Ceylon House only allows medical patients inside right now, but it plans to expand when the recreational market opens. Currently, there are only six states that allow cannabis lounges, but the idea is gaining steam. Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He says as more states legalize the recreational use of the drug, they're finding a need for designated use areas as people come in from other states to use pot.

PAUL ARMENTANO: They can buy cannabis when they are staying in these cities, but they can't legally use cannabis when they go back to their hotel or out on the street.

MAUCIONE: States and cities are seeing the need for areas like cannabis lounges to solve that problem. The Las Vegas City Council recently voted to allow cannabis lounges. And Atlantic City's in the process of turning a former 10,000-square-foot casino into a dispensary and lounge. Now, other states and cities are considering loosening laws around cannabis cafes or letting current ones act more like bars by bringing in bands or selling food. Ceylon House could soon follow suit as Maryland continues its process of legalizing recreational weed.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Maucione in Baltimore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARLEY CARROLL'S "MIGRATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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