A member stuffs marijuana into a grinder at the Studio A64, a members only cannabis social club, Friday evening, August 15, 2014. (Photo By Andy Cross / The Denver Post)

Entrepreneur behind Massachusetts marijuana club eyes expansion

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — The general manager grabbing headlines for opening the city’s social club where members can smoke “anything that’s legal in Massachusetts” hasn’t ruled out opening new chapters in places Fitchburg or Leominster.

“Every possible option is on the table,” said Kyle Moon, 27, of Northbridge. “It’s a high population area, and it’s up and coming, just like most of our state.”

Maybe even Lowell?

It’s been a whirlwind week following the Feb. 9 opening of members-only, The Summit Lounge. On Friday morning, Moon pulled to up to his Water Street establishment amid a row of delis, bars and a hookah lounge.

The business administration student tries a couple different keys before finding one that unlocks the front door to the club for another reporter assigned to see the space an aggravated city manager last week said “exploited a loophole” in order to open.

Inside the lounge welcome to members who pay the $50 monthly membership fee large crystal ashtrays sit on shellacked butcher-block tables. Airy blue paintings hang on mahogany walls, and more than one plant is perched near a window.

Standing across from a glass case filled with glass pipes, bowls, candy and chips, Moon said he strives to be transparent, with members of the media, and with the city, which finds itself host to the self-described inaugural club explicitly catering to cannabis connoisseurs in the state.

“We say that we’re the first one in Massachusetts, but I know of other underground ones but it’s like I’m not sure of their legal status and they haven’t come out yet so I’m not gonna, you know what I mean?” he said.

The Summit Club’s board is comprised of Moon, his siblings and his parents. It was conceived after his brother, a medical marijuana patient, glimpsed a more mature canna-business scene at a trade show in Colorado.

Upon returning to Massachusetts Moon and his ilk sat at a restaurant and tossed around ideas for making their own industry entrance. Draft regulations released by the Cannabis Control Commission pegged the cost of recreational retail and distribution licenses at over $10,000 said Moon, but social clubs are locally licensed at a much more modest cost.

“There’s a huge monetary investment with growing and distributing, and that’s not something that the average working family can get into,” he said beyond the front door, where a black sign advises members and their paid guests of a no-weapons policy, and inside where a no-photography rule is enforced.

While the recreational marijuana industry awaits its marching orders from the CCC, Moon and his family have carved out a niche in the existing legal landscape. Current state law prohibits the sale of recreational marijuana but allows anyone of imbibing age to possess a small amount on their person.

Related: Massachusetts cannabis capitalists exploit loopholes by “gifting” before sales start

Private social clubs like Moon’s fall outside the scope of regulation by the Cannabis Control Commission, according to spokeswoman Dot Joyce.

“We only have jurisdiction over the things that we license, and we don’t license that kind of establishment,” she said Thursday.

Last week, Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus called on the CCC to change that, saying in a statement that “(The Summit Lounge) did not disclose to the city that he would be operating a private club for the purpose of marijuana consumption. He has exploited a loophole in the 2017 Marijuana Act as well as the draft regulations … private ‘bring your own marijuana’ clubs must be addressed.”

Moon said he and his board were transparent in their intentions while submitting license applications for the Summit Lounge.

“They asked us what are our members going to be smoking and we said, anything that’s legal in Massachusetts. Then we also had other conversations with the city that went more into more detail,” Moon said, sitting on bar stool in the back room of the Summit Lounge. “Even if we didn’t disclose that they were going to be smoking cannabis… would the licensing process be any different? No, it wouldn’t have been because there’s no differentiation between what’s legal and what’s not legal.”

He said he met with Augustus this week, and all agreed to “move past this” and work in concert.

“We have worked with (the city) and continue to work with them and look forward to working with them, they have concerns, and obviously I have concerns too,” he said. “We’re a new business, they understand we’re a new business, and they don’t want to turn small businesses away, but we understand that there are concerns that need to be addressed.”

Moon works a second job as a recovery coach. He is in abstinence-based recovery with four years of sobriety under his belt. He admits to being skeptical to the venture “when it was pitched to me,” but was swayed by research he found showing marijuana’s benefits to people with substance-use disorders or who suffer from chronic pain.

“It was one of those things where my own misgivings were kind of confronted and I was able to look at it from an honest standpoint where, just because I don’t smoke weed, because I don’t consume cannabis, doesn’t mean it doesn’t help a lot of people. I think that’s where we need to start going as a society,” he said.

Moon said The Summit Lounge is a place where medical patients and recreational smokers can meet with “like minded people.” He hopes the stigma surrounding cannabis use will fade as more marijuana ventures open up in the state.

And if all goes according to plan, Moon and his family will be part of the wave of businesses that come to the commonwealth after July 1.

“Do we have ambitions to become a dispensary? It’s like, that’s where the money’s at,” he said.

“That is one thing that we’re working through, we’re membership driven, so I don’t know if this location would be a good venture, but we’re trying to keep everything on the table.”

The Quinsigamond Community College student said he has been fielding phone calls from people who are interested in opening social clubs like the Summit Lounge in other parts of the state. He considers working with them to open chapters of the social club in several cities.

But for now, Moon is still ironing out wrinkles at his Water Street location — his point-of-sale system went down last week, and the board is still wrestling with the price structure of membership.

“When we were opening this we were like, ‘we’re going to have them all over the state, this is gonna be great.’ And then you start to miss a lot of the finer details of just opening the first one, so we’re focused getting this profitable, or not even profitable but sustainable, and then scaling from there,” he said.

Information from: Sentinel & Enterprise (Fitchburg, Mass.)