Fancy a Visit to a Cannabis Cafe, Club or Lounge?

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The idea of a place where you and your friends can go hang out socially for a spliff instead of a beer or coffee has always been appealing. Care for a chill and relaxing stay at a Cannabis cafe? Who wouldn’t want their cannabis and their cake too, right? The very idea is the epitome of not only full legalization but a special kind of societal freedom.

Somewhere in the world, this is already a reality.

Birthed in Holland during the 1970’s, to date, the “Cannabis cafe” or coffee shop has never been replicated in any other country, anywhere. Yet. That said, a lot of people have tried, and are still trying.

So what is it exactly that they are running over in Holland (and some other European countries), which the Americans are struggling to get off the ground? Find out the ins and outs of Cannabis cafes, clubs and lounges below.

Traditional “Dutch” Coffee Shop

cannabis cafe

Epitomized by Amsterdam, but present in many Dutch cities, a Cannabis cafe is basically a cross between a regular café and a dispensary, with every kind of imaginable variety on a theme you can imagine.

Some push the café idea, others the Marijuana wares they have on sale. Some go for a mixture. Basically, the idea, no matter what the theme, is that you go to a public place where you can kick back and order Marijuana (in many different forms) as easily as you can a cup of coffee or a snack.

Some are upscale (call them the Marijuana Starbucks). Some are the equivalent of a hole in the wall. Some are neighborhood haunts, frequented by the locals. Some only cater to tourists.

The bottom line, however, is you can smoke in public, around other people who are smoking in public, and nobody cares.

Cannabis Clubs and “Lounges”


Private clubs and lounges have sprung up everywhere where cafés cannot operate.  They are, by definition, “private” – in other words, not openly accommodating to the average public (or tourists). These kinds of establishments have operated just about everywhere there was (or is) any kind of Marijuana “scene.”

  • In the 70’s and 80’s, many of the American Marijuana clubs were centered around gay life and, as the AIDS epidemic got underway, medical cooperatives which provided pot to sick patients.
  • The largest club of this kind originally operated in San Francisco, and at its height, had over 10,000 registered patients.  This is also the model now in operation in every U.S. state post rec reform, Canada, Britain, Spain and Germany.
  • Cannabis clubs and lounges are usually attached or associated (in an equally nebulous way), to a “non-profit” Marijuana-growing collective, that members pay to be a part of. When members go to the club, they get Marijuana for free (which they can either smoke on the premises or take with them.)
  • In Italy, it appears that the Cannabis café that has just opened in Rome is operating in a similar fashion.

The difference between the Cannabis club and the Cannabis cafe is simply that the one is private and the other public.  Where Cannabis clubs and lounges operate, the laws do not allow public use of cannabis.

Cannabis Haven Hidden in the Shadows

barcelona-cannabis-club- cannabis cafe

In every U.S. state where Cannabis has become recreationally legal, entrepreneurs have repeatedly tried to establish some kind of establishment in line with a club or cafe, but to no avail. Most of the opposition stems from people and forces against not only any kind of use, but public consumption as well. Oregon, in fact, specifically banned the idea on the eve of legalization.  

Even more, than recreational pot shops, the neighbors just can’t come to terms with a place that allows patrons to order pot and smoke it in the same way you might go into a bar or coffee shop and order a brew.

To date, as a result, cannabis “clubs” have operated in the shadows…just as they have before legalization.  

  • In the rest of the U.S. hemisphere, especially Argentina, where medical reform has just gone on the books officially, there are many private clubs where medical users can congregate and smoke in semi-public  – but there is nothing open to the general public either.
  • Canada, which is on the cusp of recreational reform nationally also does not have anything like an Amsterdam-style coffee shop.  The same is true in Britain, Spain and Germany – particularly Berlin.
  • With the idea of cannabis cafés remaining an immensely popular idea,  Italy has just opened its first “sort of” café – in Rome.  

The website of Canapa Café might not be operational yet, but it began in early September. Customers apparently can sample hemp products and regular java. In the back, medical clients can go to smoke cannabis.

The entrepreneurs behind the attempt clearly are trying to push the edges of what appears to be the first legalization drive in Europe outside Holland. The Italian legislature is about to decriminalize Marijuana in a way that would allow this kind of establishment to operate in sort of a grey zone.

However, it is not Amsterdam.

Have you tried going to a cannabis cafe?

Share your experience with us!


Marguerite Arnold

Marguerite Arnold

Marguerite is an American expat. She has worked in digitalization of two industries (film and finance) for over 25 years as well as a professional journalist and writer. She lives in Frankfurt where she is also just finishing her Executive MBA at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, working as a freelancer and writing a medical marijuana/FinTech business plan. She published her first ebook on the pace of marijuana reform last year.

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