After my last couple of weeks in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Texas, it was a sweet relief to touch down in Anchorage, Alaska, for this weekend’s Northwest Cannabis Classic.
Alaska is the only so-called “red state” to pass marijuana legalization so far. My first order of business was to make my way to 420 W. 3rd Avenue, the apropos address of Pot Luck Events. It’s Anchorage’s “420 headquarters”—a private club that serves as a national model for what a cannabis lounge can be.
Aside from the address, though, the public would be hard-pressed to identify the club. It’s housed in a nondescript brick warehouse-style building, part of a retail marketplace in the city’s downtown. There are no windows, and the entrance is festooned with just a medium-sized sign over reflective-tinted glass doors. There are no giant neon pot leaves or blaring stoner imagery to frighten tourists or pearl-clutching pot haters.
Inside, you’ve died and gone to marijuana heaven. The lounge is quite large and open. A huge political sign with a giant “2” (their legalization initiative’s number on the 2014 ballot) welcomes you upon entry, signed in black Sharpie by the dozens of activists who helped make legalization happen.
After being carded and paying the $5 daily membership fee (a monthly membership costs $10 for veterans and patients, $20 for the public), you enter the lounge. The main floor is generously outfitted with large, plush, comfortable easy chairs. The chairs are arranged in a grid pattern, surrounding large wooden coffee tables appointed with silver serving trays and glass goblets that serve as ashtrays.
The walls are decorated in some great local art, as well as classic “Reefer Madness”-style anti-marijuana pulp fiction covers from the 1930s. There is a pool table, sets of different board games and a crystal chess set for entertainment. Bob Marley and Peter Tosh songs play through the in-house stereo system.
At the bar, I sat with Theresa Collins, the owner and manager of Pot Luck Events. We chatted about the incredible upgrades she has made to the club and the difficulties she’s faced dealing with local and state regulators.
“They tried all sorts of ways to shut us down,” she explained, “like with indoor Clean Air [no smoking] rules and such. So we have to become a private, members-only club? OK.”
Theresa handed me a king-sized joint. As I lit up, she asked if I’d like something to drink. Brandie, a lithe tattooed bartender, chatted me up as she poured me an ice water, although the menu of drinks includes all types of canned sodas, coffee, tea and fruit juices. Later, I had Brandie mix me up am Italian soda with pomegranate syrup.
That’s when the lady sitting to my right asked Brandie for “a shot of Sour Patch Kids.” No, it’s not some exotic Alaskan drink; she was talking about the sour gummy candies. Behind Brandie on the bar, where you’d expect a rack of liquor bottles in a tavern, is a display of various bulk candy—M&Ms, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, plain gummies—and she’ll fill up a two-ounce serving cup for you for free.
To my left, I chatted with an older gentleman in an Australian bush hat. His name was Dave, and he’s the creator of what he tells me is Alaska’s second native cannabis strain after the famous Thunderfuck. He showed me the inaugural copy of Alaska Leaf Magazine, and in the centerfold article was a huge macro bud shot of his award-winning Arctic Blue strain, which he was proud to tell me has now been added to Leafly’s strain guide.
Dave motioned me over to another side of the room where there was a small dab bar set up. He opened up a silicone container and whipped out a slab of Arctic Blue concentrate about the size of an Oreo cookie.
“These kids, God bless ‘em, come in with their sheets of extract in cases like a pizza oven,” Dave told me. “I ain’t got the room for that. I just keep packing it into these containers until I end up with a hockey puck; it’s easier to carry.”
Dave and I dabbed along with two young ladies who were visitors to Alaska. He gave them instructions on how to hit the rig with its always-on electric titanium nail, capping it with a dome to get the maximum hit. Man… friendly people, dabs, couches, reggae, soda, candy and joints were just the remedy for two weeks in the prohibitionist South. It couldn’t get any better than this.
But it did.
“Have you seen the VIP Area?” Theresa asked me. Already feeling quite the VIP—like everyone else getting legally high on the premises—I told her no. She sent me to the back wall, where a pillar reads “VIP LOUNGE” and leads through a small entry.
Inside, there’s a whole second version of what I had already been enjoying, except even more luxurious. The easy chairs are leather, there’s a bigger dab bar and a big flat-screen with an Xbox setup. It is actually a stage for the main hall area that’s been partitioned off by a large projector curtain, upon which is running a photo slideshow from previous events. The leather couches and curtain can be easily removed to turn the VIP Lounge into a performance stage for live bands.
“You should have seen our 4/20 event,” Theresa bragged to me. “We had this floor and the floor above us packed with over 500 people.”
She continued with her story, leading to how the local news media have taken pains to portray her club specifically—and legalization in general—in a negative light.
“Why don’t you report on our 4/20 event,” she said she asked the media, “and tell us how many wrecks and cannabis DUIs happened that day from here? A big ZERO!”
I returned to the main area and found a comfy couch to sit on. A middle-aged woman came in and plopped down in a seat near mine. I found out that she works in middle management and had just wrapped up a grueling work day. Soon, she and I were sharing a fat joint of Arctic Blue that Dave had given me, and she was laughing and relaxed. Other hard-working, boot-wearing Alaskan men and women were conversing and sharing around us.
As I took in the atmosphere, I couldn’t help but think how this is all a felony in Washington State, a stack of Clean Air Act violations in Oregon and the subject of a citizen initiative in Denver, Colorado.
Why in the hell are newly-legalized states afraid of pot lounges? What good is it to recognize the right of adults to choose to use a substance safer than alcohol, but then give them no public place to gather and enjoy that right? Especially when we give the public those places for alcohol, knowing it leads to drunk driving, fights and public puking?
I have traveled to 24 states with over 200,000 air miles in my cannabis career, and there is no better model cannabis lounge for the nation to examine than Pot Luck Events in Anchorage.
(Photo Courtesy of Alaska Dispatch News)