WeedWork: Inside Work’n’Roll, NYC’s First Cannabis Coworking Space
The freelance experience just got chill as hell.
12:14 PM EDT on July 6, 2023
Most coworking spaces are deeply depressing—adult day care meets "Office Space." But as the afternoon sunlight filtered into the Manhattan penthouse that Work'n'Roll, New York City's unofficial cannabis industry networking hub, calls home, I found myself privy to a totally different vibe. Healthy-looking tropical house plants decorated various nooks and crannies, and foliage that may or may not have been plastic hung from a skylight, tinting it a snappy green. Smoke from three different dab bars wafted and traced its way through the air; cannabis pros chatted on couches between inhales. I watched in awe as a guy in a black "GOD IS VEGAN" snapback smoked a blunt solo, then strolled back to his laptop in the designated nonsmoking room on the other side of the office. Then I took a bong rip and chatted with a pair of 24-year-old twins who told me they've been making edibles together since they were 14 years old. They talked about a weed syrup they developed using "nanotechnology" until I found myself too stoned to keep up a conversation.
As I drank in the scene, I had to admit I was wrong about coworking, or at least this particular space: Work'n'Roll was delightful.
Technically speaking, Work'n'Roll is a consumption lounge—a venue where people bring their own cannabis products and consume them on-site. It's a model that's struggled to catch on nationwide and in some states where weed has been legalized like Michigan, it's illegal to sell cannabis in consumption lounges. Plus, it's tough to convince customers to stick around, even when they can buy bud in-house. As such, consumption lounge licensing is low on the Office of Cannabis Management's list of priorities for the foreseeable future, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. (Right now, it's still illegal to consume cannabis in a private business.)
Work'n'Roll co-founder Julia Deviatkina spent years in coworking spaces as a freelance industrial designer—and smoking weed while she did her design work. So when she decided to enter the cannabis industry after moving to New York City from Berlin, a coworking consumption lounge felt like the perfect marriage of her interests. "Smoking is a great addition to any business model, really," she said. "This was something really close to what we already do in our daily life."
Deviatkina told me she's determined to enter the legal cannabis industry, but that she understands she's up against some pretty big hurdles. "The monetization point is something that is really challenging," she told me, as we passed a joint back and forth between us as her giant, one-year-old Doberman, Kisa, did her best to consume the shag carpet under our feet. "Imagine you're going to the bar, but they're not selling anything," she continued. "It's just the music, and you can come and consume your beer that you brought with you. That isn't gonna work. People will be like, 'We'll do that at home.'"
So how do you get people to smoke weed somewhere other than their apartment? Work'n'Roll, which opened in May 2022, employs a few different strategies. The basic membership includes access to a three-room space in Manhattan. (I won't say exactly where, but if you really want to know, you can figure it out.) There's a showroom that's part headshop, part merch tent for NYC-based cannabis brands. In the biggest room, members and guests can light up on playfully mismatched furniture and grab a complimentary cup of coffee, tea, or (not weed!) infused water. There's also a smoke-free quiet room for getting some actual work done.
But the most important thing the space offers is access to other members. Although you don't have to work in weed to join Work'n'Roll, its membership today is almost exclusively made up of current or prospective cannabis industry insiders. "We have cannabis accountants, we have cannabis lawyers, we have software companies here who are in the cannabis industry, but they're on the ancillary side—billing, software for hiring, for inventory management, and stuff like that," Deviatkina said. "Dispensary owners, legacy brands and legal brands, cultivators, influencers who make weed content, musicians making music about the plants, it's just a little bit of everything." According to Deviatkina, around thirty cannabis businesses in the city pay $599 a month to work from the space. An individual membership costs $200 a month, and people in the cannabis industry who live elsewhere and find themselves in NYC for business can purchase $30 day passes (or $15 four-hour passes, layover-style).
She told me she's watched as all these workers having a place to mix, mingle, and get high (while technically on the clock), pay real dividends during Work'n'Roll's brief existence. "You really see the development," she said. "People who have never met each other and really have to meet! You take the licensed cultivator and the brand person, add a dispensary owner, pull them all together and make that magic happen. And then next month, you see the products on the shelves, and it's like, 'Oh my God, that's crazy!' It's such a cool feeling."
But the real moneymaker is that by night—and honestly, sometimes by day—Work'n'Roll doubles as an event venue. I first heard about Work'n'Roll when a friend's sister dragged her along to a weed-centric yoga class held at the coworking space. It has played host to a wide range of events, including cannabis industry panels, all-women networking events, burlesque and magic shows, karaoke nights, concerts, and a jiujitsu tournament. And, even though Work'n'Roll is operating without a license, Deviatkina told me she has spotted members of the state's Office of Cannabis Management and the Mayor's Office among event attendees. The venue also takes extra steps to remain as compliant with existing and prospective cannabis regulations as possible, even while technically operating illegally. There's a sign-in policy that prevents anyone who isn't a member or a guest of a member from entering the space, and alcohol, tobacco, and butane or propane torches are all prohibited on-site.
It's hard to imagine Work'n'Roll facing any kind of legal blowback. First, there's the fact that authorities are more focused on shutting down weed bodegas. Then there's the whole vibe of Work'n'Roll—it feels genuinely nice to spend time there. (The weed absolutely helps.) The atmosphere is friendlier and the clientele is better behaved than any given bar in the city at the same daylight hour. The day I visited, people were mixing, chatting, and sharing a giggle while they shared a joint, but the volume of the room never went above the convivial hum of a kickback, even as more and more people filtered into the space. As for the weed, there's a filtration system in every room, even the weed-free work space, which quickly pumps out any lingering smoke.
I'm not the only one who appreciates the general chilled-out aura. "I want everybody to figure out their way to open up a Work'n'Roll," Ramon Reyes, a cannabis equity advocate and co-founder of the weed collective Happy Munkey, told me after I interrupted his casual mid-day blunt. "A lot of people don't see the business in consumption lounges. But the thing is, it's like a bar. There's a billion bars in Manhattan, but you go into that certain bar because you get a certain feeling. You can go have that same shot of tequila in every bar and every restaurant in New York, but you go to your bar because you know that's your spot."
Reyes was part of a crew that opened one of the city's first consumption lounges in 2017 out of the music studio Fight Klub, and he told me he's thrilled to see Work'n'Roll step into the space. "People feel comfortable here, and that's the biggest thing," he said. He told me he's noticed a male-dominant energy that's persisted in other consumption lounges, and said he appreciates the fact that Work'n'Roll attracts a more diverse crowd. "I think every other place is hyper-dude-focused. It's like, dudes, dudes, dudes, 'Get the crazy weed for the dudes!' I want to be in a spot where it's super safe and fly enough for a group of women to come and chill and smoke," he said. "So even if I just decide to sit in this corner and smoke by myself, I'm not surrounded by the dude energy and the 'yo, yo, yo' shit. Here, I get to just be, and it's pleasant."
For Deviatkina, a co-sign from someone like Reyes is proof of concept. "New York is such a diverse place and the industry has existed for tens of years. It's already here," she said. "The goal of this space is to support those people who've been like, OGs, those organizations—bring them together, let them collaborate. This is the main function right now."
As our conversation wound down, clusters of proprietors began setting up their dab bars and what may or may not have been a jam band shuffled into the space. Deviatkina told me that she believes her coworking space is key to building the weed industry she wants to see—one that's supportive, collaborative, free from the grip of giant corporations in it just for the money, and run by and for real heads who really care about the future of cannabis in New York City.
"Business conferences are so funny. There's, like, a community crowd, then there's the suits—and some of them are not even smoking!" she said with a laugh. "I was talking to someone at a panel here the other day, and he was like, 'Oh, no, I'm not smoking, but my friend told me it's a good opportunity to to see what's going on, maybe enter the industry,' and I was like, 'If you're not smoking, how are you going to be doing that?' We're all stoners here. We feel each other."
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