Tolerating Public Drug-Use Buildings
I was recently in Vancouver, British Columbia, as the guest of Marc Emery and Dana Larsen, two of Canada’s top cannabis activists. While I was there, I got to go to the Cannabis Culture Store on W. Hastings Street. The store in on the first floor, then up a stairway there are two smoking lounges on the 2nd and the 3rd floor.
Remember, marijuana isn’t legal yet in Canada. They do have a medical marijuana program, but as far as my experience in Vancouver went, marijuana may as well be legal. Dispensaries and pot lounges are accepting of anybody who shows an ID proving they’re 19 years of age or older.
As I enjoyed some delicious flavor of BC Bud with the Prince of Pot inside a building downtown in a major metropolis, I just shook my head thinking about how touchy a subject pot lounges are in the United States.
The frustrating part about the pot lounge issue is the same frustration we have with marijuana policy in general – not only is marijuana safer than alcohol generally, but pot lounges are far safer than brew pubs specifically.
In one of my previous incarnations, I was a professional bar musician. Before that, I was the son of a professional bar musician. The first three decades of my life I spent a lot of weekends in alcohol bars. In that time, I’ve seen every kind of fight up to the full-scale, chairs-flying barroom brawl. I’ve seen sexual assaults. I’ve seen stumbling and puking. I’ve seen drunk driving fatalities.
In my decade of marijuana activism, I’ve never seen a private or public marijuana social event that compares. Yet the general public is in a quandary about the issue of pot lounges.
It’s maddening because here’s a public that accepts without question the existence of multiple buildings in town for the express purpose of taking highly impairing, terribly addictive drugs. These drug buildings are so ingrained as a part of everyday life that there are even sitcoms on TV about the wacky antics of the druggies congregating where everybody knows their names.
Not only are there these buildings where the sole activity is taking drugs, but we are heavily advertised to about taking these drugs at these buildings for fun. When it’s drug time, there’s no slowing down, because taking drugs makes you the most interesting man in the world!
It’s not just the drug buildings, however. We have other buildings for eating, listening to concerts, and watching sporting events, and we’re encouraged to take drugs in these buildings, too. We’ll even have the food servers suggesting which kind of drug goes best with a particular meal.
At all of these buildings that promote the use of drugs, there are parking lots. We fully trust adults to drive their cars to buildings where they are encouraged to consume impairing drugs. Then we trust them to judge their own drug impairment accurately enough to get back in their cars and drive home. Even though we know from decades of data that there will be tens of thousands of deaths resulting from this trust, including people who never consumed the drug.
If we can accept tens of thousands of bars, pubs, taverns, nightclubs, restaurants, concert halls, and sporting arenas selling alcohol, the most dangerous drug in our society, why are we moving so slowly on a few lounges where the only drug allowed is the safest one in our society, cannabis?
It’s not the secondhand smoke issue – firsthand cannabis smoke hasn’t even been shown to cause long-term damage to the pulmonary system, such as COPD, emphysema, and lung cancer. Scientists have just barely been able to get a positive drug test out of someone for secondhand cannabis smoke, and to get it they had to put them in an unventilated seven-foot box with the smoke-equivalent of dozens of tokers.
It’s not the driving issue – stoned drivers are nothing like drunk drivers. Scientists have found that after correcting for age and gender, drivers with THC in their blood are no more likely to crash than sober drivers. There’s no reason to fear a stoned driver if we’re still going to allow drinkers to drive away from bar parking lots.
When you get to the root of it, it’s a cannabigotry issue – they just don’t like our kind (pun intended).
For many people, legalizing pot wasn’t about accepting pot, it was about rejecting prohibition. Many, perhaps most people still think of tokers as lazy, shiftless, amoral addicts. For them, legalizing was, “You’re right, locking you up is a waste; now go back home, shut your drapes, and smoke your bong.”
Legalizing the pot lounge means they’ve tacitly accepted us with the alcohol drinkers. Pot smoking goes from the dirty habit we tolerate to the social choice we accept. If there’s a pot lounge, they’ll worry, the smoke-in-the-open outdoor pot festival is next, and after that, pot starts showing up in TV ads. Marijuana becomes as ubiquitous as alcohol and they’ll have to smell pot smoke wherever they go.
I don’t think they’re going to like the future.