Treat Marijuana Like Alcohol… So Where Are The Pot Lounges?
Throughout the fight to end adult marijuana prohibition, there has been a constant refrain of “treat marijuana like alcohol”. The public is increasingly aware that marijuana is safer than alcohol and it seems only logical that if our society can handle the legalization of the most harmful drug people consume for fun, we should be able to handle one of the safest drugs people consume for fun.
The public and our elected officials have largely taken that mantra to heart. Treat marijuana like alcohol, we asked, so now we’re selling it adults-only shops where we check IDs. We’re having marijuana inspected and tested and labeled just as we’d expect a bottle of wine to have an accurate labeling of proof and be free from contaminants. We even have scientists working to create a breathalyzer-style device for roadside sobriety testing to treat marijuana like alcohol, even though in this case, marijuana is nothing like alcohol.
So why does the “treat marijuana like alcohol” concept fail to create venues where adults can gather to consume marijuana? A vapor lounge, a cannabis café, a pot bar, whatever you might call it, analogous to a whiskey lounge, a wine café, or a beer bar? Why the disconnect?
I can think of few things more un-American than recognizing the rights of a citizen while maintaining code that makes exercising those rights impossible or impractical. We fought many battles as a nation to recognize the right of black Americans to vote and then fought more battles to ensure that right could actually be exercised. What good was it to pass the 15th Amendment when those states seeking to re-disenfranchise former slaves could do so through poll taxes, literacy tests, and other then-legal means? It took almost another century to truly protect those rights through the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Sadly, today we have a Supreme Court that’s amenable to ratcheting back those protections.)
Today in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, a citizen of 21 years of age has the right to possess cannabis. But what good is that right if its real purpose – the right to consume cannabis – is impossible or impractical? If you don’t own your own residence, you may have no legal place to smoke pot. Landlords may ban that and public housing of all kinds will ban that. Toking up in public is forbidden and no hotels are going to allow it, either.
Imagine the uproar in 1933 if Prohibition had ended and adults were once again allowed to buy, possess, and consume alcohol, but all bars, taverns, and pubs were illegal, and restaurants could not serve alcohol. Preposterous! Especially when you know our country was founded by hard-drinking men who did a lot of their meeting in taverns.
Any argument that can be made for the societal danger of a cannabis café is laughable in a nation where 19 million adults consumed alcohol in over 65,000 taverns last year. In almost every town, we have at least one building designed for the express purpose of allowing adults to consume a deadly impairing drug called alcohol. These buildings often have parking lots where we expect adults will park their cars while they drink, and then we trust them to return to their cars and drive in an unimpaired state. We know for a fact some of them will be impaired when they drive away in the wee dark hours of the morning, and we know statistically that will lead to 30 people per day dying because of an alcohol-impaired driver.
If we can accept that known societal danger as a reasonable trade-off for the freedom of adults to consume alcohol in a public setting, there is no credible reason why we shouldn’t accept buildings where pot smokers can gather and consume, especially when they are far safer drivers afterward.
Of the currently legal states, only Alaska has made the sensible choice to allow for adult-use venues. Colorado does not, but an initiative to allow it in Denver has brought the government to the table to discuss pot lounges. Washington has felonized such clubs to the point where a bar owner who doesn’t shut down incidental pot smoking can be busted. Oregon has shoe-horned vaporization and cannabinoids into a Clean Air Act that was predicated on reducing the proven, known harms of secondhand tobacco smoke, even though secondhand cannabis vapor has never been shown to produce those harms. Washington DC’s city council just briefly – for 30 minutes – legalized private club consumption, only to reverse the decision after the mayor worried about opening this Pandora’s Box.
The tide may be turning for private marijuana clubs, however. The 2016 initiatives to legalize marijuana in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Massachusetts all provide for the possibility of pot lounges, while Maine’s initiative guarantees they will exist. It’s time for the currently legal states to recognize that without cannabis cafes, tourists and renters will just light up in alleys, parks, and other public spaces where we don’t want marijuana consumption.