Cannabis Coming to Manhattan

My jaw dropped the first time I visited a grow house and cannabis dispensary in Colorado a few years ago. When I saw the usual rows of desks and computers, I thought I was walking into a normal business office. Yet, behind the black door in the back of the office was a private greenhouse overflowing with cannabis plants. Naturally, I was caught by surprise because on the East coast, marijuana was still illegal and hardly ever seen in public. I realized then that cannabis was more than a plant. It was a budding industry.

Fast forward to the end of 2020, where Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that cannabis would be legally sold for recreational use in New York sometime in 2021. The sudden change of heart in the middle of a pandemic is simple. With tourism lagging and many restaurants shuttered permanently, New York is in the hole by as much as $6 billion.

Legalization was not about suddenly acknowledging the inequities caused by banning marijuana in the first place.  New York City cares about the green stuff – money, that is. Cannabis is a huge economic opportunity for the city. In addition to tax revenue generated, the other good news is that there will be more job opportunities for designers, retailers, developers and others in the hospitality business.

Cannabis and Design

As a hospitality designer, legalization introduces a new dimension into interior design. After all, cannabis is an extremely versatile natural plant. It can be integrated into so many different forms such as oils, creams, baked goods and edibles, not to mention, being smoked. The possibilities for design of retail stores and dispensaries are endless! To give you an idea, imagine your local apothecary and your favorite luxury jewelry store came together under one room.

Successful cannabis dispensary design depends on two things. First, is an in-depth understanding of the properties and care requirements of the plant. Second, is an  understanding of one’s target market and customers. At the end of the day, retail dispensaries are all about the hospitality experience. Customers are going to go to places they feel welcome, listened to and respected; not to mention where they can the best quality product.

Cannabis and Hotels

Of course, I also see the legalization of cannabis affecting New York City hotels. Hotels have to rethink how they will entice tourists back to New York. Will it be by offering in-room edibles in the mini-bar? Spa products with CBD oils? Vaping lounges? CBD infused delicacies on the dessert menu? However, not every hotel brand can or should pull this off. Many need to consider who its target customer is and if they are still targeting that customer or want to explore catering to a new customer base.

In addition, they need to understand how they want to incorporate marijuana to begin with.  If smoking is allowed in hotels, this poses a concern about air quality and smell, especially for non-smokers.  Then, there are legal and liability implications.  What will hotel management tolerate? How will they educate and train their workforce? While the road ahead to legalization is still hazy (no pun intended) in New York City, cannabis dispensaries offer hope of new economic vitality.



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