Kansas City Entertainment District Takes New Approach to Cannabis Consumption Lounges

Cannabis will be an added attraction rather than the focus.

The news of a new entertainment district in the Kansas City metro area – which is slated to include cannabis consumption areas when it opens for business next year – appears to be part of both the ongoing normalization of marijuana use across the U.S. and an evolution of a business model that has struggled to find its footing.

The difference between the proposed Smokey River Entertainment District in the Kansas City suburb of River Bend and other past cannabis consumption lounge attempts is that backers are planning an entertainment business first, in which marijuana plays a supporting role but doesn’t factor into any actual revenue stream. It’s just an added attraction.

smokey river announcement final

“That’s exactly part of the reason why we’re setting this up the way we are,” said Joey Pintozzi, vice president of marketing and operations for Besa Hospitality Group, the company behind the sprawling proposal.

Pintozzi said he and his partners – who have backgrounds in the entertainment industry in Florida and Las Vegas – were all mindful of how many past attempts at consumption lounges in other states haven’t fared well, primarily because they’ve been restricted from actual marijuana sales themselves, which made it hard to figure out a sustainable revenue stream or business model.

“First and foremost, this is an entertainment district, through and through,” Pintozzi said, and ran through the laundry list of attractions, from concert venues to festivals and more. “Say you walk into your favorite restaurant and they have a smoking lounge … that’s exactly what it is. It’s normalizing cannabis.”

Many of the logistical details are still being worked out – such as the square footage of consumption areas, how both indoor and outdoor consumption will be organized, and whether there may be any restrictions for visitors.

“So far, we’re talking about the beverages, the flower, and vapes. We’re looking at every aspect of this,” Pintozzi said. “The state is pretty clear on what you can do with cigarettes and how you have to operate in a venue that carries food and a hospitality venue… so it will be very similar.”

Pintozzi also has the same vice president of marketing title with BesaMe Wellness, a licensed medical marijuana company with five storefronts, and said visitors to the Smokey River Entertainment District will have plenty of options for purchasing cannabis at nearby stores or in Kansas City proper, where dispensaries have flourished for the past two years.

At some point the cannabis retail could overlap with the entertainment district, Pintozzi said, but for now, the idea is just to give marijuana consumers a way “to be like everybody else.”

“I was kind of anxious, having the cannabis aspect, about how people would receive it. And I cannot believe, over the past 48 hours, how the people of Kansas City have loved this project,” Pintozzi said on Friday, after the news broke earlier in the week about Smokey River.

“Everyone has been very supportive,” he said. “That’s going back to progress in the cannabis world. The stigma, we’re finally starting to see that going away. Prohibition is going away.”

John Schroyer

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