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Should There Be Marijuana Lounges In States That Legalized Marijuana?

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(image via nydailynews.com)

By Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel

Without doubt, it is important that we begin to move forward with the legalization of lounges and social clubs that permit marijuana smokers to gather and enjoy their favorite strains. Marijuana smoking is a social activity, and most smokers would like the option of dropping by a local marijuana-friendly venue, to relax with friends and like-minded colleagues.

Currently, none of the four states that have fully legalized marijuana allow for this option. Smoking in a public venue is prohibited, and the authorities have taken a needlessly restrictive view of what is a public place, refusing, for example, to permit someone to lease a private venue and operate a private, members-only club where marijuana could be enjoyed. There is no public-policy or public-health basis for being so restrictive

As we move forward, it is important that we not permit ourselves to get shoe-horned into some system that suggests we are second-class citizens, simply because we enjoy smoking marijuana, and that would effectively keep us in the closet. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and there is no reason why we should not be permitted to enjoy marijuana in a lounge or social club with friends.

Smokers’ clubs have in fact surfaced in all of the legalization states, where those in the know can meet and share good weed, but they are forced to operate on the fringes, as part of a “gray market,” and several have already been closed by the authorities. I had the opportunity to visit a “smoke-easy” in Denver when I was in town for the 4/20 Cannabis Cup, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but was saddened to learn the club had been raided and closed the following day. Gray market clubs are clearly not the long-term answer to this problem.

In Seattle, City Attorney Pete Holmes, a strong advocate for legalizing marijuana, has recently given a boost to this issue by releasing a 10-page report calling for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges. “Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana,” Holmes said, “but others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options. You can enforce the law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand.” No action has yet resulted in Seattle to permit marijuana lounges, but the topic is now front and center for consideration by elected officials.

So I was pleased to learn a few days ago that an effort is underway to qualify an initiative for the Denver ballot this November to remove some of those barriers, and to legalize marijuana-friendly clubs and lounges. The proposal would permit existing alcohol bars and clubs to permit those 21 and older to consume marijuana in designated areas; vaporizing and edibles if indoors, and smoking if outdoors and out of public view.

Let’s Keep Our Distance from Alcohol

My concern with this specific proposal to legalize marijuana lounges is that it would allow marijuana smoking in venues that are also licensed to sell alcohol. I would urge a model that allows for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges, but keep those separate from existing alcohol bars and clubs. I am not making a moral judgement; I personally enjoy both drugs, and when I am home in the evenings, I frequently pour myself a glass of wine and roll a joint. But I am at home in a safe environment, and not putting anyone at any risk.

The two drugs, when used together, are synergistic, and the effect of combining the two causes far greater short-term impairment than either drug by itself, raising legitimate questions of public safety if alcohol bars and clubs were also marijuana-friendly. It would require the bar tender to be far more careful about “cutting-off” anyone who appeared to be getting drunk, and their track-record in that regard is not reassuring.

In addition, alcohol is a drug that causes many drinkers, at some point, to become aggressive and confrontational, resulting in bar fights and other unruly and repulsive behavior on a regular basis. Marijuana, on the other hand, causes most users to feel relaxed and peaceful, and certainly not confrontational. That distinction is one that is both relevant and helpful politically, and we should strive culturally to maintain that advantage. Were we to establish a system in which both drugs were sold in the same venues, we would likely end-up being judged (by the 84 percent of the public who do not currently smoke marijuana) by the worst behavior caused by alcohol, including it’s impact on safe driving skills, and that is a needless political burden to carry.

Interestingly, Colorado state Representative Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), a strong supporter of legalized marijuana, has previously floated ideas involving cannabis-only clubs, such as those that operate in Amsterdam, but those would be alcohol-free venues, avoiding the public safety and political issues discussed above. The latest proposal being advanced for Denver fails to maintain that distinction.

I recognize that even if marijuana lounges were free of alcohol, there is nothing that would keep an individual from stopping at an alcohol bar, for example, for an hour, before then leaving for a marijuana lounge. No system can avoid all risks, and in the end we must rely on the common sense of most marijuana smokers to avoid dangerous and abusive practices. But we need not establish a system that creates those opportunities and invites those problems.

A recent poll released by a Washington, DC group called the Third Way found that roughly one-third of the public remain opposed to marijuana legalization; one third remain strongly in favor of legalization; and the remaining third – dubbed “the marijuana middle” – now oppose prohibition, and support full legalization, but they are not pro-pot. Rather they recognize that prohibition has caused more problems than the drug it attempts to prohibit. And important for this discussion, only 36 percent of the survey respondents viewed recreational marijuana smokers favorably; 54 percent have an unfavorable impression of those of us who smoke recreationally.

That underscores the fragile nature of the coalition that has made it possible for us to move legalization forward in this country, and the need to move cautiously as we ask for additional rights under these new laws. We must be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of non-smokers, in order to maintain our majority for full legalization, and I fear this latest proposal coming out of Denver puts a big political bulls-eye right on our backs.

I would urge those proposing this change to consider amending their initial proposal to allow for marijuana-only lounges and clubs in Denver, but take a lead from Amsterdam and do not permit marijuana to be smoked in alcohol clubs, or alcohol to be consumed in marijuana clubs. That would provide us smokers with what we need — the opportunity to socialize with other smokers — without the additional risks, both political and real, of mixing the two drugs.

Source: NORML - make a donation

  • jontomas

    Right on, Keith! – I agree with every word. – Having a vapor lounge has always been my dream. – If my dream comes true, sorry, no alcohol. – It’s a buzz-kill – in many ways.

  • Ted Mishler

    What a great idea:-)
    Are we to be in bondage? Or free to mingle about?

    • jontomas

      You’re free to mingle alcoholicly outside my vapor lounge, thanks. – There’s only a few million venues to choose from for that.

      • Ted Mishler

        really, are we as a species ready to be socially openly free people, who are not afraid to speak with one another like normally we should be?
        or are we to allow others to enforce use to be Dependant on them for our existence, while they do their best to imprison us? you know, the old discriminatory attitude that has lost our economical footing, and many business owners have left the usa as there are too many regulations here, and too many taxes. and not enough cannabis availability at times, well im fine now, just some scenarioed thought that may be a reason people leave this country

        i have to find out why this phone will not send pictures anymore, i wanted to take a few pics of some artwork people are doing in town

        ok, ltr blog

        • jontomas

          It’s not a matter of being able to speak with each other. It’s a matter of multiplied impairment caused by combining the consumption of marijuana with alcohol.

          It is just now becoming clear to the public that marijuana does not significantly increase the risk of auto accidents.
          But instantly allowing public venues to provide both at the same time to their customers would not only result in more impaired driving, and more accidents – the new problems would naturally all be attributed to marijuana – especially by a sensationalist and often, prohibitionist press.

          After we end the federal prohibition, and after the public has gained solid knowledge about the effects of marijuana and the effects of combining it with alcohol, we may be mature enough and knowledgeable enough to handle combined marijuana and alcohol sales.

          We are a long way from there at this time.

          • Ted Mishler

            It is a matter of high treasonous traitors warring on marijuana users

    • MrPC

      I suppose some might choose to be in bondage??? To each his own, I say. But in public? Really?

      • Ted Mishler

        lol, well, i forget people do not always read into people’s words’ original intent

  • newageblues

    I’m more optimistic than Keith Stroup that having cannabis in bars would have a good effect on bar culture, but I still like the idea of cannabis only clubs very much, at least at first. It would make it crystal clear how safe it is for people to gather to share weed (like the ‘Burnside Burn’ earlier today and similar events have already done), in glaring contrast to alcohol, so it would be great advertising for weed

    • jontomas

      It would be good to be alcohol free for a number of reasons, besides the ones Keith described.

      Bars – and alcohol – create an exaggerated testosterone environment, with some tanked-up guys looking for a fight.

      A vapor lounge would have a whole other attitude and vibration. Instead of aggression and conflict, there would be compassion, cooperation and a very peaceful vibe.

      • newageblues

        I definitely want cannabis only cafes, and that’s where I’d go, but I’d be surprised if allowing cannabis in bars didn’t have potential to make them more mellow.

        • jontomas

          Possibly. But it is true that combining alcohol and marijuana is worse for driving than alcohol alone. (While marijuana alone does not cause significant amounts of accidents.)
          This fact alone is worth policies that do not encourage this combination outside of the home.

          • newageblues

            Driving impaired is certainly a crucial issue.
            Are the studies saying that a drink of alcohol and a joint is worse than a drink of alcohol, or that a drink of alcohol and a joint is worse than 2 drinks of alcohol? In other words, are the studies ignoring whether the cannabis is being used as a substitute for additional alcohol?
            A second question is if they looked into whether the likelihood of people choosing to drive impaired is affected by what they’ve used. In my experience the people who used both would be less likely to engage in reckless and sadistic behavior than people using only alcohol, but maybe that’s not what the evidence shows. People who use only cannabis tend to be aware of any impairment, and either refrain from driving or drive more cautiously to compensate, does that tendency totally disappear when it is mixed with alcohol?

          • jontomas

            Good questions. But I have not seen them addressed anywhere. If you Google “combining marijuana with alcohol,” you’ll get many hits, but you need to be careful. Many of them are at prohibitionist sites. I did not look at them, but know from experience they will spin any research as hard as possible to reflect on marijuana.

            The most reliable source I saw was Erowid. They have a detailed description of some research there. They summarize:

            “The effect of combining moderate doses of alcohol and moderate doses of marijuana resulted in a dramatic performance decrement and levels of impairment, as great as observed when at 0.14 BAC alone.”

          • jontomas
  • MrPC

    I agree, there should be alcohol bars and weed bars, but not in the same building. I’m thinking a BYO vape-only environment and/or outdoor smoking lounge with live jazz (insert your favorite music type here) and a coffee, snack and dessert menu, but NO edible cannabis products. Denver City Council, please let this happen!!!

    • jontomas

      Sounds terrific. – Heaven, actually.

      • MrPC

        The hot fudge sundae concession alone would make you rich. Or maybe just fat.

        • jontomas

          My (dream) vapor lounge would feature savory vegetarian sandwiches and local, in season fruits and smoothies.

          Healthy can be delicious.

      • newageblues

        My complete heaven includes community gardens and being priced like alcohol.

        • jontomas

          I’m sure the price will be similar to, or less than, alcohol. I believe prices will hover under $50 an ounce after the dust settles on re-legalization. – It’s just a plant.

          Community gardens sound interesting, and a great way to get lots of people back to nature – in various ways. That much growing together would require security services, though.

          Another dream I have is a cannabis-centered campground. We could call it, “Mellowstone Park.” 8^)

    • Denny

      Why no edibles?
      Some of us have medical issues with our lungs and edibles are the only comfortable form of ingestion for us.
      And yes, I tried vaping, but that also irritated my lungs and just wasn’t doable..

      • MrPC

        We have had a few tourists and newbies get into trouble by consuming more edibles than they should. A couple of tragedies happened that would never have happened if they had been smoking. Personally, I have nothing against edibles and agree they might be better for some folks. But it’s a lot harder to get into trouble if you’re smoking, since the effect is immediate and it’s pretty hard to overdose.

        • Denny

          I understand and am aware of the delayed reaction time factor when consuming edibles.
          However, for some of us that’s the only tolerable option.
          I also learned via a specific skin test performed by my dermatologist that cannabis consumption, eaten or inhaled, can cause an allergic skin reaction that resembles hives.
          While it isn’t life threatening it’s definitely unpleasant in appearance and sometimes itches, and the reaction becomes more prevalent with regular cannabis use over an extended period of time.
          As further legalization and research occurs, and I fully support it, people are going to discover additional, formerly unknown medical issues associated with it.
          Having said that, most of these issues won’t affect most people, but it’s merely common sense to become rationally educated about everything possible with regard to all forms of cannabis use.

      • newageblues

        Since it takes time to come on anyway, you could buy edibles at a shop, and take them before you enter the club.

  • Cristina

    Yaas. If this ever happened, I would die happy! I think about this daily. This whole country needs to be legalized already!!

    • jontomas

      Amen. Now that consumers in the growing Free States don’t have to hide, they should start forming a national cannabis consumer’s union.

      We could wield some real power that way and finish off the vicious dinosaur of prohibition even quicker!.

  • AfraidinCt.

    they have bars, Smoking Clubs for cigars, and taste testing wine clubs as social events. Cannabis should be no different

  • Two big green thumbs up!

  • AAMCO

    If I can’t get a farm/ dispene going a vape lounge would next

  • Stonedcoldbaby

    iBake Englewood, co
    Members only 21+ cannabis consumption site.
    They have two locations. Is this business not legal? I paid membership fee and got blazed for multiple hours.