February 17, 2020

Kol Ami Worried About Nearby Cannabis Cafe

A rendering of the interior of Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe. Photo courtesy of Lowell Herb Co.

The slated Sept. 1 opening of a cannabis cafe in West Hollywood is facing opposition from Congregation Kol Ami, located across the street. 

In an email to the West Hollywood City Council ahead of a July 16 City of West Hollywood’s Business License Commission meeting, Congregation Kol Ami Rabbi Denise Eger expressed concern that members of her synagogue, located at 1200 N. La Brea Ave., would be exposed to marijuana smoke when Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe, owned by the Lowell Herb Co., opens at 1201 N. La Brea Ave. 

Founded in 1992 by Eger, Kol Ami is a self-described progressive Reform congregation that serves the LGBTQ community, among others. Eger also is the past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the first openly gay person to lead the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

While the recreational marijuana law went into effect in California on Jan. 1, 2018, this will be the country’s first cannabis cafe, and Eger said she is worried about the potential negative effects it will have on her congregants.

“As a community who has lots of members in 12-Step programs, we have grave concerns about this across from our congregation that includes families with children,” Eger wrote. “The business is to have outdoor space for smoking pot — and I don’t know why my congregation members and participants have to walk through clouds of marijuana to get to synagogue. It will limit the use of our outdoor space, as well, because of the contact high from the smoke that will waft in the area.”

However, Eger also made it clear in her email that the congregation has no objection to people buying marijuana for personal use. “We know that many people, including our congregants, use and enjoy cannabis,” she said. “Some for health and some for recreation.”

At the meeting, the Los Angeles Times reported, Eger said she was concerned the “smell of marijuana would infiltrate the air in her synagogue, where families gather for worship and often have rooftop events.”

“As a community who has lots of members in 12-Step programs, we have grave concerns about this across from our congregation that includes families with children.”
— Rabbi Denise Eger

However, despite Eger’s protestations, the City of West Hollywood’s Business License Commission unanimously agreed to provide the cafe, owned by Sean Black and David Elias, with a cannabis consumption license, which will allow patrons to smoke, vape and eat cannabis products on its patio.

In an email to the Journal, Elias said the cafe’s air-filtration system, coupled with air-purifying plants integrated into the design of the cafe, would prevent his business from having any impact on Kol Ami. He said the cafe’s street-facing patio, the one closest to Kol Ami, is designed for non-smoking guests.

“I want to put all concerns from Rabbi Denise Eger and Congregation Kol Ami at ease,” he said. “I understand her point of view and take her concerns seriously, as my grandfather was one of the founders of our synagogue. Our business will not disrupt her congregation or any neighbors in the West Hollywood community.”

He added that the cafe “is part of the historic movement to end cannabis prohibition, and this is a responsibility we do not take lightly. We are paving the way for cannabis businesses in West Hollywood and beyond, and setting a positive example is very important to us.”

In an email to the Journal, John Leonard, community and legislative affairs manager for the city of West Hollywood, said, “The City has spent a significant amount of time crafting and working to implement the ordinance, and the City anticipates that the new cannabis businesses will be popular destiniations for residents and visitors.”

Eger was not immediately available for comment.