SESSER -- The owner of Illinois' first cannabis lounge says she's looking forward to making a bit of history, but that wasn't her original plan.
"When the state of Illinois legalized cannabis and opened up a system for licenses, it became a long, crazy process," Holly Roeder, owner of The Luna Lounge of Sesser, says.
In addition to creating a licenses system for dispensaries, which are businesses that are allowed by state law to sell cannabis and are tightly regulated, Illinois also permits local governments to authorize on-site consumption lounges.
That's because there are few areas where a person may use cannabis legally, Roeder said. A homeowner may consume cannabis in his or her home, but those who rent often do not have that option legally, she said.
Roeder said she had seen a news story about a business in Champaign that was slated to become the first such cannabis lounge in Illinois, and she thought her business might become the second one. However, the Champaign business didn't materialize. Meanwhile, in Sesser, the city council approved Roeder to open The Luna Lounge.
Sesser Mayor Jason Ashmore said the city's decision is one made with the southern Illinois region in mind.
"What we're really hoping is that this business turns into something to make Sesser a destination, and it's just one other activity or business someone may choose to visit when they're here," Ashmore said. "We want to have a wide variety of businesses people may choose to go to."
Roeder said besides creating a safe, legal location for cannabis consumption, her business fills a gap in the current entertainment scene.
"For example, I enjoy cannabis, but I do not like being around people getting drunk," she said. "These are the sort of places that will be popping up for people like me, and we'll be the first one bringing bands and entertainment."
The Luna Lounge opens Saturday, July 10. The limited-attendance event already is sold out, but Roeder says once open, The Luna Lounge plans to be available seven days a week. Hours currently are in flux, but she wants to be able to open her business 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. through the week and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.
The Luna Lounge is located in the former Bank of Sesser, and the old bank vault is being used as a smoke shop, which sells smoking and vaping supplies but not cannabis. The smoke shop also rents smoking accessories, such as pipes, she said. It's because of a wrinkle in the law.
"It's legal to purchase cannabis from a dispensary, but it's illegal to carry a pipe, because it's considered transportation of drug paraphernalia," she said. "So, we will be renting smoking accessories like pipes."
Any smoking accessory for rent will receive thorough cleanings between rentals, she said.
Roeder also said she's been working with some local businesses who stand to benefit from The Luna Lounge. Besides a food truck or trucks parked outside, she is networking with some local restaurants and other businesses to provide a booklet showing her patrons where they may find food and lodging.
That's the strategy Ashmore, the Sesser mayor, said stands to benefit the region.
"People are going to be coming here from Chicago, and they are going to be coming up from other states where cannabis is not legal to use recreationally," Ashmore said. "They can't purchase it at The Luna Lounge, so they will have to go to a dispensary for that, whether it be Harrisburg or Carbondale or Mount Vernon or somewhere else."
He also said he thinks the cannabis lounge will be well received.
"We look for people to come and enjoy themselves and still be safe and responsible, just like any other business. We hope this continues to grow the region in terms of tourism. This isn't just for Sesser. Southern Illinois has a lot of potential to benefit," Ashmore said.
Roeder, for her part, said she's ready for the grand opening.
"They have them (cannabis lounges) in other states, but I never thought in a million years they would allow that here," she said. "We're very excited."