The Challenge of Public Consumption


In a recent interview with MJINews, Amanda Reiman, Manager, Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, identified three issues that states will be required to grapple with as they legalize marijuana for adult use:

  • defining a workable relationship between recreational and medical use,
  • taxation, and
  • managing public consumption.

The issue of public consumption seems the farthest from resolution at the moment. It is most serious for tourists and people who live in rental housing with restrictive lease conditions. The gap in the law leaves many with nowhere to go to safely consume products that are legal.

As Sam Kamin, University of Denver law professor, recently said on The Cannabist Show, “What [Colorado voters] voted for was to treat [marijuana] like alcohol, and alcohol means there’s places to do it.”


Rocky Start For Cannabis Clubs

Public consumption has been banned in Colorado since the inception of legal cannabis. The ban creates a particular issue for the tourist industry, as Maureen Dowd’s infamous bad trip illustrated. Reiman noted to MJINews, “It has pushed tourists into the edibles market, which is not a good idea. It’s like saying to someone who has never had a drop of alcohol, ‘you can’t have beer or wine; you can only do shots of [Bacardi] 151.’ You would never do that.”

If the lack of a legal venue for cannabis tourists is a problem in Colorado, it is certain to arise in other states with a tourism economy, including Nevada, Massachusetts, California and perhaps, eventually, Florida

In June, Washington State adopted H.B. 2136, widely written about as a sensible reform of the state’s marijuana tax structure. However, Part IV of the bill also explicitly bans consumption of marijuana in public places.

In Washington, D.C., where cultivation, possession and consumption are legal, but sales are not, the mantra is “home grow, home use.” However, rental units make up 41 percent of all housing, and many people live in shared housing or units where no smoking is allowed.

Early on, cannabis clubs were seen as a rational solution to the problem. In March, however, the Council of the District of Columbia passed legislation banning businesses, cannabis clubs and other associations from permitting the private consumption of marijuana.

Many who support legalization and regulation and want to obey the law are left with no recourse. The resort to public parks is far less controlled, alienates the neighborhood and does nothing to protect minors.


Next Wave of Reform?

Denver activists are now gathering signatures to get an initiative on the Nov. 3, 2015, ballot that would permit marijuana consumption in bars and clubs that meet certain guidelines. To put this initiative on the ballot, petitioners need to gather and submit 4,726 valid signatures by Sept. 3, 2015.

Colorado and Washington State regulators have now had enough experience with legalization to be confident of two things. The first is that the worst fears of lawlessness, drugged driving and abuse among adolescents seem to have been unfounded.

The second is that, with respect to the three big issues of taxation, the relationship of the adult use and medical sectors with one another, and public consumption, some tweaking appears to be in order. The year before a big national election, when many more states are expected to embrace full legalization, may be a very good time to do that fine tuning.

Anne Wallace is a New York lawyer who writes extensively on legal and business issues. She also teaches law and business writing at the college and professional level. Anne graduated from Fordham Law School and Wellesley College.

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