Public Cannabis Consumption Lives in Loopholes

“Now that I’ve bought it, where can I smoke it?”

It is true that a giant leap was made by the act of legalizing recreational marijuana in the state of Washington, but there is still a great deal to be accomplished and a great many issues on the table that have yet to be addressed. The one at the forefront of many marijuana users’ minds is that they have no place to legally consume recreational marijuana.

One obvious solution is the call for recreational marijuana lounges and cafés. Now that recreational marijuana is regulated and for sale to adults over 21 in Washington, consumers are calling for a place to do the actual consuming.

An interesting parallel can actually be seen in America’s history with alcohol consumption. When prohibition ended in 1933, alcohol wasn’t immediately legal everywhere. Like marijuana, the decision to legalize alcohol fell into the hands of individual states, and some withheld for decades. It wasn’t until as late as 1966 that that alcohol was legalized in every state, the last being Mississippi. What naturally followed was the decline of speakeasies and the resurgence of bars and taverns, which itself took time with the establishment of liquor control boards.

Marijuana is additionally complicated though, because part of the problem consuming this legal substance can be blamed on something that was made illegal almost a decade ago—smoking tobacco in public.

Since 2005, Washington, has had an almost draconian ban on smoking. The way that laws are constructed, smoking is illegal in any public space, place of business or private residence that is used for childcare, adult care or other social services. Additionally, and most relevantly, it requires 100 percent of indoor workplaces to be smoke free. These laws were written in a way that does not preclude marijuana smoke.

What this means is that unless you are a property owner or you happen to rent housing that allows smoking (something increasingly rare), there are extremely limited options of where to legally consume the newly legal substance. Unlike a cigarette smoker, you can’t just step into a parking lot 25 feet away from a business entrance—consuming marijuana in any form is illegal if done in view of the general public.

For these reasons, people like Seattle’s city attorney Pete Holmes are in favor of the push for marijuana and vapor lounges. These would be places that would provide safe, legal environments to consume marijuana. According to Holmes, “You can enforce that law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand.”

While there has been a push for lounges and cafés, Washington state’s current smoking laws actually also make private clubs an impossibility. Even if the lounge is a private establishment where membership fees would be charged, the law guarantees a 100 percent smoke free work place. Essentially, the club might exist but under current restrictions there can be no employees.

Club Ned, the first and currently only cannabis café/club, opened in Colorado in March 2014. It was able to open by carefully and openly utilizing a series of loopholes in regulations, and members must pay dues, make appointments and bring their own marijuana.

It seems like only a matter of time before these laws evolve to work with the burgeoning industry, as there’s currently the discussion of amendments to many parts of Washington’s marijuana legislation, including taxes, lounges and the combination of medical and recreational marijuana. It’ll be interesting to see how the system continues to adapt and how it will feed off of the successes and failures of surrounding states.

Josh Browning is a writer and editor based in Washington and has a background working in the technology, education and creative writing fields. He earned his MA from Western Washington University and his BSS from Ohio University.

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