You buzz the doorbell upon arrival, wait for the door to open then climb a narrow set of stairs before reaching a formidable security door. A guy watching several CCTV screens lets you in. If it’s your first time they’ll check out your ID and jot your name down, perhaps in case there’s a fire drill, but most likely to remind you that they know who you are.
Teens slouch in corners speaking in hushed tones as others play FIFA against each other on a widescreen TV. Mos Def’s debut album Black on Both Sides blares out on the stereo while Mist’s “Ain’t The Same” gets played off someone’s phone.
Because above an outlet of a popular brand, on a busy high street, sits a café where you can buy cannabis and then sit, chill and smoke it.
Thick fumes escaping from the tips of countless lit joints quickly dissipate and escape through a solitary ventilation shaft. The windows are blacked out and kept shut. This is a place where a cross-section of young adults can meet and bond over common concerns.
Obviously it’s illegal and that’s what gives it a prohibitionist current. We all know that what we’re doing is, by-the-book, wrong – but it shouldn’t be. It’s probably safe to say cannabis café culture won’t remain underground in the UK forever. But, unlike women in Saudi Arabia getting the right to drive, it won’t happen overnight.
Nonetheless, the tailwinds of drug reform globally have an unmistakably cannabis-infused aroma: the smoke is blowing in the right direction for marijuana advocates. In Uruguay you can now smoke anywhere, states and provinces in the US and Canada are decriminalising and legalising at some pace and in Holland and Jamaica it’s been cool for a while.
There is bipartisan support for legalisation among MP’s in the UK. However, the only pro-legalisation party, the Liberal Democrats, failed to increase their share of the vote this year while Labour remain opposed to legalisation although Corbyn has said he’s in favour of decriminalisation for medicinal use.
As for the Tories, well, they say there is clear scientific and medical evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug. This leaves the £6.8bn marijuana industry in the hands of people like the trailblazing entrepreneurs behind this business, along with street dealers and home growers.
It is these people who cater to the demand of hundreds of thousands of pot-smoking Londoners. There are reportedly at least six clandestine smoking hot-spots in and around the City and it’s a growing trend, although places like this have existed across the UK for years.