A Michigan brewer has turned his bar into a private after-hours cannabis club, exploiting a legal loophole
Although recreational cannabis is often allegedly regulated ‘similarly to alcohol, consumers in most states where recreational marijuana is legal do not have the same freedoms as alcohol consumers. Often, cannabis consumption is illegal in public places, severely limiting the social aspect of a good old fashioned toke.
In Kalamazoo, Michigan, where cannabis became fully legal last November, a local brewer is turning his brewery and bar into an after-hours private cannabis club by exploiting a gray area in the law. Mark Rupert has turned his brewery, Rupert’s Brew House, into a cannabis lounge called ‘The Cooperative’ where he will hold private events after his business has closed for the day, reports MLive. The brewery has operated since 2013, but with the legalization of recreational marijuana, Rupert sees a new opportunity to connect with the cannabis community and provide a safe space for social consumption.
Rupert will not provide weed of any kind, and the events will be strictly BYOW (bring your own weed), but they will provide a safe space for consumption in a convivial and social lounge atmosphere. There will be a modest membership fee, thereby classifying cannabis lounge as a private club, and technically not open to the general public. To maintain privacy, Rupert plans to issue key fobs to members, the cost of which will be covered by the membership fees, which could range from $5 to $20.
“There are not a lot of places that are welcoming to the new idea of cannabis being recreational,” Rupert said, expressing how he intends to build community through toking. “I think it’s important for the community to have a place where they can feel comfortable talking about cultivation or the culture of cannabis on top of everything we already do with the craft beer.”
Having consulted with an attorney, Rupert believes he only has to maintain public hours at his brewery to preserve his liquor license. However, Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Spokesman David Harns appears to disagree. “A brewery may not act as a private club unless they surrender their liquor license to the Commission or put it into escrow.”
Sarissa Montague, associate attorney at Kalamazoo-based law firm Levine & Levine, who is not affiliated with Rupert or Rupert’s Brew House, told MLive that Rupert is exploring a gray area of the law. She says social clubs have not been directly addressed by the state legislature, and the deciding factor would be whether it really is a private space or not.
“The marijuana act is intended to allow people over the age of 21 to use marijuana unless it is specifically precluded by the act,” she said. “That said, there are still grey areas and it might take court cases to figure out what those grey areas mean.”
“You can’t know for sure if somebody’s going to try to challenge it,” Montague said. “If somebody tries to challenge it, then a court case comes in to flesh it all out. The law says what it says, but what’s it going to mean in 5 years?”
It may be a gray area of the law, but Rupert’s private club appears to have received a tacit approval by authorities. Even Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson says “this apparently is a loophole in the law.”
Staying as far away from any controversy as possible, “We're not condoning any sale of cannabis products," Rupert says. “We’re not into bartering, we’re not into any sort of transaction that would put people in jeopardy. The ideas is to let them be free with themselves.”
“It’s not going to be a pot den,” Rupert said. “We’re not trying to turn it into a smoker’s bonfire of weed. We want people to respect what we’re doing. This building has always been a place where good friends meet.”
Rupert even got the local health department to sign off on his arrangement. “We’ve had the health department OK us, give us permission, written permission. Even the Kalamazoo Police Department came in and said, ‘Well, we just wanted to check in on how things are going and it looks private,'” Rupert told WWMT.
“We’ve all been [smoking pot] for 30, 40 years,” Rupert said. “We’re going to do it anyway, we might as well embrace it in a legal environment where we can come together, have a good beer, have a good bowl and relax.”
On days when the private cannabis club holds events, Rupert plans to close the brewery at 9 pm and open the club to members only at 10 pm. Rupert held his first event January 12, which according to all reports appears to have been a success. Some reports show that around 100 people showed up. He plans to hold them weekly on Saturday nights. The next event is set for January 19 and 10 pm.
*Header Image: Photo of Rupert’s Brew House, via Rupert’s Brew House.