BY CAMILLE BORODEY, Staff Reporter
The interior of The Lounge looks like a college student’s dream living room, except at The Lounge, there isn’t a landlord trying to evict pot smokers for lighting up indoors.
With the passing of Initiative 502, big changes have come to Ellensburg’s hookah establishment.
“It’s a subtle change in laws,” TJ McDonald, owner of The Lounge, said. “Laws are changing, but people’s actions changed years ago.”
Born in Coral Springs, Fla., McDonald went to high school in Portland before coming to Ellensburg.
He graduated from Central in 2010 with a double major in finance and economics, as well as a minor in nutrition.
“When I got to college, I got more serious with school,” McDonald said.
He is grateful for his education, but McDonald felt he was often taught how to be a good employee instead of how to be his own boss.
He’s not a fan of being told how to work by corporations.
“Through the econ program and reading books, you’re not in a great position being an employee,” McDonald said.
Through reading business books and brainstorming ideas his sophomore year, McDonald thought up The Lounge.
“There was nothing in Ellensburg for those under 21 to do at night,” McDonald said.
Opening The Lounge was no easy matter, but McDonald remained persistent. City hall denied him a license several times over a two-and-a-half month period.
“Every little point in the law, we had to show that we were following the rules,” McDonald said. “When they ran out of reasons to deny me, they had no choice [but] to issue me a license.”
McDonald also had to deal with laws on a state, county and city level.
“If you had to talk to one person, shoot, that’d be easy,” McDonald said.
There are a lot of complicated laws that come with opening a hookah bar, and McDonald keeps himself well educated.
In Kittitas County, one cannot sell and consume tobacco in the same location, so The Lounge has a shed in the back where costumers buy tobacco.
“If I know the laws better than they do, I can work around them,” McDonald said.
The Lounge opened in 2011 and has remained a successful business since.
“A lot of people wanna get into business to make a lot of money,” McDonald said. “But you gotta spend a lot of money to make a lot of money.”
Since The Lounge is a private establishment, smoking indoors in not an issue.
The Lounge is also one of only four hookah bars in the country where people can consume marijuana.
Even though those who are 18 and over can consume tobacco, marijuana smokers have to be 21 to consume the product, and they have to provide their own green.
There is also a separate room, so tobacco and pot smokers are separated.
“They’ve suppressed this thing for 75 years,” McDonald said. “I think it’s gonna blow up. All the young people know that. They know how widely consumed it is.”
Being well educated in the field, McDonald looks forward to the changes that I-502 has brought to the industry.
Although many people think the legalization will bring a negative effect to the industry, McDonald welcomes the challenges of marijuana legalization.
“The [complications] in the law weed people out,” McDonald said. “If it was easy, anyone could do it. It’s my job to play those laws to my advantage”
McDonald said he was originally nervous about people consuming marijuana in his establishment, but he has followed all the laws and has not had any issues.
“If we’re doing anything wrong, let us know,” McDonald said. “But if we’re legally allowed, we’ll keep doing it.
McDonald plans on hosting more events in the future including an after party for The Electric Sea Paint Party on Nov. 22.
“Let’s go get wild for the rave,” McDonald said, “and then have an after party where everyone can wind down.”
McDonald is also open to hosting private events and parties at The Lounge.
The Lounge isn’t just a place for college students; McDonald gets a variety of customers at The Lounge.
Mark Loveland, a maintenance technician in Ellensburg, has known McDonald for five months.
“The only bottle you’ll be tipping around here is a bong,” Loveland said. “The atmosphere is nice and comfortable.”
Zack Dekker, a good friend of McDonald’s, does a lot of graphic design for The Lounge, including the interior artwork.
“It’s the only place I know where you can legally smoke weed,” Dekker said. “I’m surprised more people don’t do it.”
The interior of The Lounge has a very grustic feel with a variety of comfy chairs and sofas, a big-screen television and an outdoor patio with a fireplace.
It has an overall chill environment for those who do not feel like being sardined inside the sweaty bars on weekend nights.
McDonald looks forward to the progression that will come with the legalization of weed and what it will bring to him and his business.
“It’s the end of marijuana prohibition and the start of industry,” McDonald said. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”