Denver and Alaska Set to Push Legalization Envelope
News out of Anchorage and Denver this week was good for marijuana smokers, as both the city of Denver and the state of Alaska moved closer to the legalization of marijuana social clubs. Smokers could thus socialize in a venue with other adults where marijuana smoking would be legal.
Until now, in the states that have legalized recreational use (and in the District of Columbia), marijuana smokers are only permitted to exercise their newly won freedom in their home or as a guest in someone else’s home. Holland-style coffee shops or marijuana lounges were not legalized by those early voter initiatives.
That is about to change.
Denver NORML and The Committee for the Responsible Use Initiative in Denver have announced the final language for their municipal initiative. They expect to be cleared this week by the city to begin circulating petitions seeking the signature of registered voters, putting the issue on the ballot for voters to decide in November.
The proposal would license and regulate private marijuana social clubs and special events where adult marijuana smoking would be legal. The state legislature had earlier indicated some interest in amending state law to permit marijuana social clubs, but when that stalled, Denver NORML began to move forward with their municipal voter initiative. Clubs could not sell or distribute marijuana, and bars, nightclubs and restaurants could not become private marijuana clubs or host special events.
The most current polling suggests the proposal is favored by a clear majority (56%) of voters in Denver.
Denver NORML executive director Jordon Person offered this appraisal of the proposed initiative. “Passage of this ordinance would be a historic first step in moving towards the ultimate goal of normalizing the consumption of marijuana in our country. The initiative would provide responsible adults a legally defined space where marijuana could be consumed and shared with other like-minded adults — a simple, yet necessary accommodation for states that have passed some form of legalization. This is a pragmatic approach that focuses on the basics and provides the city of Denver a solution to an issue that is not going away.”
Proponents have until August 15 to collect 5,000 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
In Alaska, the decision to license some version of marijuana lounges was made by the Alaska Marijuana Control Board last November, and this week the board issued draft regulations to define when and where “on-site consumption” would be permitted.
The proposed regulations are now open for public comment before the board finalizes them.
While the outline is still tentative, marijuana cafes would be permitted only in conjunction with an existing marijuana retail store, on the same premises, either indoor or outdoor, but with a separate entrance and separate serving area. A separate license would be required for on-site consumption.
Customers could purchase small amounts of marijuana ( 1 gram of marijuana, edibles with up to 10 milligrams of THC, or .25 grams of marijuana concentrates) to consume on-site and would not be permitted to bring their own marijuana to smoke on-site. Strangely, they would be required to leave any unfinished marijuana behind to be destroyed, and “happy hours” would not be permitted. Marijuana lounges would be permitted to sell food and non-alcohol beverages.
Marijuana Control Board chair Bruce Schulte explained the board was proceeding with a degree of caution, because this is new territory for state legalization regulatory agencies. One of the more difficult issues the board had to deal with, according to board member Brandon Emmett, was whether to permit dabbing.
Laboratories of Democracy
As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Denver and Alaska are exercising that important role as we move forward with better and better versions of legalization. What we learn from these initial experiments with marijuana social clubs will inform subsequent states in the coming years.
This column first ran on Marijuana.com. April 28, 2016