Whether it was because their apartment policies restricted them from smoking in their units or their spouse didn’t like the smell of weed in their home, medicinal cannabis smokers needed a place they could smoke and relax in peace, says Venushski “Venus” Hemachandra, 33.
In efforts to appease their demands, Hemachandra says, she opened Ceylon House, at 4009 Sandy Spring Road in Burtonsville. The business opened last weekend, providing a place where medicinal marijuana smokers could smoke, relax and socialize in an environment where wicker and Sri Lankan art provide an inviting ambience, much like you would find at a bar.
Ceylon House, which seats up to 60 clients, is believed to be Maryland’s first medical marijuana smoke lounge, which fills Hemachandra, a former Burtonsville resident, with a great sense of pride, she said.
“After getting this going and I’m talking to people, I feel like what we did is amazing,” she said. “So, that makes me feel like what we did is so worth it.”
Employees also say they take pride in the first-in-the-state status.
“I feel like we’re innovative,” said Lenysa Gardner, manager at Ceylon House. “Of course, there’s some in California, Nevada things like that, but we’re the first ones to do it here. So being a part of it, to me, it’s just super exciting to have my name on it.”
In addition to working at the lounge, Gardner, 34, is also a medicinal card holder and loves having a place for people like her to socialize.
“As a card holder, it’s just a great space to be able to meet other people who are card holders who are the consumers and not feeling shamed,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things in the cannabis community, especially depending on what your prior experience or upbringing was with it.”
Here’s how Ceylon House works: medicinal cannabis patients must provide their patient card along with their ID upon entry. It costs $25 for a two-hour session use of the space. Patrons must bring their own medicinal cannabis still in its original packaging.
Mere steps from the lounge is a medicinal cannabis dispensary, Herbiculture, which Hemachandra also owns; that opened about five years ago. Ceylon House will offer a discount of $10 on the two-hour session for Herbiculture customers.
The lounge sells Backwoods, a brand of cigars, and papers for patrons to use in the lounge. Patrons can also rent smoking devices, including some rare ones that can cost $1,000 retail, Hemachandra says. If they like the pieces, they can also buy them.
This might come as a surprise and disappointment to some smokers, but Ceylon House isn’t allowed to sell food. Worry not because Hemachandra said the lounge will partner with some local food trucks to set up in the business’ parking lot. Guests are also allowed to bring their own food or have food delivered to the lounge.
Hemachandra, a Sri Lanka native, decided to pay homage to her homeland and her current home when decorating and furnishing Ceylon Lounge. The lounge is filled with handcrafted wicker décor and furniture pieces from Sri Lanka, and a wall has a painting of the Greater Coucal, a native bird of Sri Lanka. She also intends it as a nod to the bird mascots of the two professional-league sports teams in Baltimore, where she lives now.
Hemachandra says she hopes to help dismantle the stigmas placed on weed smokers.
“I want it to be like, as more of these places open up, cannabis becomes an OK thing,” she said. “I think we’ve come a long way from when we started to folks being more accepting of cannabis, one as a medicine and just as something to use, to like destress. It’s still a medication, I use it as medicine. I’m a patient, I use it for nerve pain and a whole bunch of other things.”
For Gardner another benefit to the lounge was the educational aspect.
“Prior to starting this job, most of my background was in wedding and event planning and restaurant management,” Gardner said. “When I found out more about it and what they’re doing, I’m like ‘oh, yes,’ so now I can be a part of not only educating folks but just be a part of growing this all together. I was just excited to be a part of it, learn it, educate myself more into the cannabis community, build more cannabis connection and just providing a safe space for people to come in and do their thing and meet other people.”
Ceylon Lounge is a new concept, not only to Montgomery County but to the state of Maryland, and it is one that Hemachandra hopes people will begin to understand and accept, especially with the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana to go into effect July 1.
In November, Maryland voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. Last month, lawmakers introduced senate bill 516 a cannabis reform bill to tax and regulate marijuana.
Within the bill it also states that medicinal marijuana dispensaries, like Hemachandra’s would have to pay a one-time conversion fee based on the gross revenue of the dispensary in 2022 in order to sell recreationally when the law goes into effect July 1.
Hemachandra said Ceylon House plans to allow patrons to smoke recreationally when the law goes into effect depends on how that will be regulated.
“We want to continue to support the legal market because it’s a lot,” she said. “We have an existing market right now and so to do that – we haven’t figured out the process really. … There probably wouldn’t be any restrictions at that point because it’s legal.”
The lounge operates from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.