By Paul Schneider
Imagine a day when you could walk into an establishment, something like a bar or a coffee house, have a seat at a table or perhaps on a couch, and light up a joint.
Far-fetched? Perhaps not so much. There was recently a movement afoot in Denver to get an initiative on the Nov. 3, 2015 ballot; however, the initiative was withdrawn on Sept. 3 so it will not be seeing the light of day this year.
But that doesn’t mean that marijuana-only lounges are a flight of fancy. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who has been an advocate for legalizing marijuana, released a 20-page report earlier this year calling for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges.
Holmes explained, “Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; 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. Enforcement against public marijuana use will be more effective if people have alternative locations to use marijuana legally.”
Keith Stroup, the founder and former executive director of the NORML, is leading the charge for the implementation of these establishments. As he pointed out in a recent phone interview, the idea is not exactly novel.
“Anyone who has ever visited Amsterdam, for example, knows this isn’t exactly a new idea,” he said, referring to the city’s coffee houses, where marijuana consumption is legal.
It’s no secret that attitudes in Holland are often more liberal than those in the United States. And while anything resembling a red-light district may never become reality in this country, the idea of marijuana-exclusive bars and shops seems to be part of the ever-quickening evolution of the industry. Medicinal marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and the drug’s recreational use is legal in four states, with California likely to vote on an initiative in 2016. It’s becoming increasingly clear that, while legislators may still have reservations about the drug, voters are getting behind it in droves.
“There’s no doubt that in the four states where it’s legal that marijuana-only lounges have become one of the basic consumer demands,” Stroup said. “People don’t want to be limited to smoking only in a private home. People like to do it in social environments, while watching a movie or someplace listening to a music or whatever it is. So there needs to be places where people will be able to do that.”
When those places appear on the landscape will depend largely on the voice of the public. To that end, Stroup said that the reason the Denver initiative lost steam was because of timing. Voters, especially younger constituents, tend not to pay as close attention to issues in non-election years, like 2015. He opined that Denver would have a better chance of putting the measure on the ballot in 2016, a presidential-election year where voter turnout is the greatest.
In a piece he wrote on the subject back in June, Stroup brought up the “needlessly restrictive view” authorities still hold about marijuana and its consumption.
“It’s a natural response to over 70 years of prohibition,” Stroup said in regards to the authorities’ purview. “Naturally people think something is wrong with [marijuana] otherwise why are you arresting all those people every year.”
As a result, any progress to be made has to be done gradually and cautiously. “It’s not surprising to me that as more legalization comes about that legislators want to be more cautious,” he said. “They would naturally want to take baby steps and eventually get to where we want to go. And if takes more years to get this right, then I think we’re willing to put in the effort to do that.”
Most important seems to be the idea that the smoking lounges be separate from places that sell alcohol. Stroup says the combination of the two would be volatile, adding that the stigma surrounding marijuana smokers is still too great, and that the combination of the two would only serve to retard any momentum being gained around the country.
“We have to be cautious when we make the move,” he said. “My thinking is that alcohol is a much more dangerous drug. If someone ends up in a fistfight or the first time anything negative happens, the media will blame it on marijuana because it’s still so new.
“Ask any bartender and 100 percent of time they’d say they’d rather have people smoking marijuana in their places.”