“This saved me from alcohol.”

Kristin Cousins, who hasn’t taken a drink for eight years, is holding up a joint as she celebrates the opening of Ceylon House, Maryland’s first cannabis lounge. As a therapist who recently received her Masters of Science in medical cannabis science and therapeutics from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Cousins uses marijuana to treat her own patients.

Medical cannabis patients can now join her in partaking at Ceylon House, which opened in Burtonsville on Saturday. For a $25 two-hour visit, the lounge, which functions similar to a bar, allows people to smoke or consume cannabis inside and chat about their experiences, sharing what works for them or discussing new ways to use cannabis as medication. Ashtrays and branded Ceylon House rolling trays sit on tables that visitors can pull up a lightweight chair to, and there are also couches and a bamboo chair swing. A bird mural covers one wall and large bamboo ornaments adorn the others.

Owner Venushki “Venus” Hemachandra also owns the dispensary Herbiculture next door. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Owners Venushki “Venus” Hemachandra and her husband Shreemal Perera, who also own the dispensary Herbiculture, aimed to create a comfortable place for those who smoke. “We really wanted to create this space so that folks can meet other people,” Hemachandra said. “Sometimes we hear that someone’s significant other doesn’t like them smoking or that they just don’t have a lot of friends who smoke, and we hope this can help people build community around cannabis.”

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Legally, Hemachandra said there is not a Maryland law allowing or disallowing a cannabis lounge. To make the case for allowing Ceylon House to open, she and her team took lessons from similar industries, like cigar bars, by implementing a large HVAC system that improves airflow. Montgomery County allowed the lounge to open after a year of “initial legwork,” Hemachandra said, because the business doesn’t sell cannabis on-site.

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Ashtrays and branded Ceylon House rolling trays are available at each table. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Cousins, 38, who also works as a corporate trainer at the dispensary chain gLeaf, said she and her colleague Matt Jenner, regional marketing manager, came to the opening to show support for the lounge. Both are interested in how legalization, which will allow use and possession of 10 ounces or less for people 21 and up, will grow businesses like Ceylon House that are currently only open to those with medical cannabis cards.

Jenner is hopeful that the switch from medical to recreational cannabis on July 1 will be “simple,” in contrast to “California and Massachusetts, [where] there was more red tape.”

Prudence Watson, 57, said she is “always surprised because people want to smoke but they don’t want to get their [medical] card.” At the lounge opening, the longtime user, flaunting two lanyards filled with pins supporting cannabis, said she is excited to bring new people into the fold once the law goes into effect.

For others in attendance, there is still a desire to be somewhat secretive. Pam H., 63, who has been a medical cannabis patient to help with aches that she attributes partially to being “a high heel girl,” said she is happy she now has a place to smoke and meet new people. But she asked The Baltimore Banner not to use her last name because she didn’t want her family to know she smokes weed. (“I have grandkids,” she said.) But cannabis allows her to avoid the pain medications prescribed to her in the past, of which she’s wary. “The doctors really do push those pills,” Pam said.

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While Ceylon House is BYOC, they are conveniently located next door to Herbiculture. Visitors can purchase paraphernalia such as papers, rolling trays and novelty glass pieces like a Mario-themed bong. For no more than $50, they can also rent from the lounge’s large selection of smoking accessories, which include a Volcano vaporizer and glass dab rigs. Similar accessories would cost hundreds of dollars to purchase individually.

Ceylon House will be open for business daily from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. as they’re gauge interest, Hemachandra said, with hopes to expand hours, especially as recreational cannabis becomes legal. Visitors are hopeful that the space will open up the conversation around marijuana.

“There’s so much stigma related to smoking,” Watson said. “And I hope places like this and legalization will make some of that go away.”