Without doubt, it is important that we begin to move forward with the legalization of lounges and social clubs that permit marijuana smokers to gather and enjoy their favorite strains. Marijuana smoking is a social activity, and most smokers would like the option of dropping by a local marijuana-friendly venue, to relax with friends and like-minded colleagues.
Currently, none of the four states that have fully legalized marijuana allow for this option. Smoking in a public venue is prohibited, and the authorities have taken a needlessly restrictive view of what is a public place, refusing, for example, to permit someone to lease a private venue and operate a private, members-only club where marijuana could be enjoyed. There is no public-policy or public-health basis for being so restrictive
As we move forward, it is important that we not permit ourselves to get shoe-horned into some system that suggests we are second-class citizens, simply because we enjoy smoking marijuana, and that would effectively keep us in the closet. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and there is no reason why we should not be permitted to enjoy marijuana in a lounge or social club with friends.
Smokers’ clubs have in fact surfaced in all of the legalization states, where those in the know can meet and share good weed, but they are forced to operate on the fringes, as part of a “gray market,” and several have already been closed by the authorities. I had the opportunity to visit a “smoke-easy” in Denver when I was in town for the 4/20 Cannabis Cup, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but was saddened to learn the club had been raided and closed the following day. Gray market clubs are clearly not the long-term answer to this problem.
In Seattle, City Attorney Pete Holmes, a strong advocate for legalizing marijuana, has recently given a boost to this issue by releasing a 10-page report calling for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges. “Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana,” Holmes said, “but 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. You can enforce the law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand.” No action has yet resulted in Seattle to permit marijuana lounges, but the topic is now front and center for consideration by elected officials.
So I was pleased to learn a few days ago that an effort is underway to qualify an initiative for the Denver ballot this November to remove some of those barriers, and to legalize marijuana-friendly clubs and lounges. The proposal would permit existing alcohol bars and clubs to permit those 21 and older to consume marijuana in designated areas; vaporizing and edibles if indoors, and smoking if outdoors and out of public view.
Let’s Keep Our Distance from Alcohol
My concern with this specific proposal to legalize marijuana lounges is that it would allow marijuana smoking in venues that are also licensed to sell alcohol. I would urge a model that allows for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges, but keep those separate from existing alcohol bars and clubs. I am not making a moral judgement; I personally enjoy both drugs, and when I am home in the evenings, I frequently pour myself a glass of wine and roll a joint. But I am at home in a safe environment, and not putting anyone at any risk.
The two drugs, when used together, are synergistic, and the effect of combining the two causes far greater short-term impairment than either drug by itself, raising legitimate questions of public safety if alcohol bars and clubs were also marijuana-friendly. It would require the bar tender to be far more careful about “cutting-off” anyone who appeared to be getting drunk, and their track-record in that regard is not reassuring.
In addition, alcohol is a drug that causes many drinkers, at some point, to become aggressive and confrontational, resulting in bar fights and other unruly and repulsive behavior on a regular basis. Marijuana, on the other hand, causes most users to feel relaxed and peaceful, and certainly not confrontational. That distinction is one that is both relevant and helpful politically, and we should strive culturally to maintain that advantage. Were we to establish a system in which both drugs were sold in the same venues, we would likely end-up being judged (by the 84 percent of the public who do not currently smoke marijuana) by the worst behavior caused by alcohol, including it’s impact on safe driving skills, and that is a needless political burden to carry.
Interestingly, Colorado state Representative Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), a strong supporter of legalized marijuana, has previously floated ideas involving cannabis-only clubs, such as those that operate in Amsterdam, but those would be alcohol-free venues, avoiding the public safety and political issues discussed above. The latest proposal being advanced for Denver fails to maintain that distinction.
I recognize that even if marijuana lounges were free of alcohol, there is nothing that would keep an individual from stopping at an alcohol bar, for example, for an hour, before then leaving for a marijuana lounge. No system can avoid all risks, and in the end we must rely on the common sense of most marijuana smokers to avoid dangerous and abusive practices. But we need not establish a system that creates those opportunities and invites those problems.
A recent poll released by a Washington, DC group called the Third Way found that roughly one-third of the public remain opposed to marijuana legalization; one third remain strongly in favor of legalization; and the remaining third – dubbed “the marijuana middle” – now oppose prohibition, and support full legalization, but they are not pro-pot. Rather they recognize that prohibition has caused more problems than the drug it attempts to prohibit. And important for this discussion, only 36 percent of the survey respondents viewed recreational marijuana smokers favorably; 54 percent have an unfavorable impression of those of us who smoke recreationally.
That underscores the fragile nature of the coalition that has made it possible for us to move legalization forward in this country, and the need to move cautiously as we ask for additional rights under these new laws. We must be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of non-smokers, in order to maintain our majority for full legalization, and I fear this latest proposal coming out of Denver puts a big political bulls-eye right on our backs.
I would urge those proposing this change to consider amending their initial proposal to allow for marijuana-only lounges and clubs in Denver, but take a lead from Amsterdam and do not permit marijuana to be smoked in alcohol clubs, or alcohol to be consumed in marijuana clubs. That would provide us smokers with what we need — the opportunity to socialize with other smokers — without the additional risks, both political and real, of mixing the two drugs.
Nearly six out of ten New Jersey adults favor legalizing the use and sale of marijuana, according to the results of a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released today.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that they support “legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and over.” Thirty-nine percent of respondents oppose legalizing cannabis.
Support for legalization was highest among those age 18 to 34 (67 percent), Democrats (64 percent), and Independents (61 percent). Support was lowest among Republicans (41 percent) and those over the age of 65 (47 percent).
When respondents were asked if they supported regulating marijuana in the same manner as alcohol, support rose to sixty percent.
In a recent appearance on CBS’s program Face the Nation, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie announced that, if elected President, he would use the power of the federal government to prosecute marijuana-related activities in states that have legalized the plant.
The enactment of state laws legalizing the use and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes has not caused an increase in marijuana use by adolescents, according to the results of a federally funded study published this week in Lancet Psychiatry.
Investigators at Columbia University in New York and the University of Michigan assessed the relationship between state medical marijuana laws and rates of self-reported adolescent marijuana use over a 24-year period in a sampling of over one million adolescents in 48 states. Researchers reported no increase in teens’ overall use of the plant that could be attributable to changes in law, and acknowledged a “robust” decrease in use among 8th graders.
They concluded: “[T]he results of this study showed no evidence for an increase in adolescent marijuana use after the passage of state laws permitting use of marijuana for medical purposes. … [C]oncerns that increased marijuana use is an unintended effect of state marijuana laws seem unfounded.”
The study’s results are consistent with the findings of previous assessments — such as those available here, here, here, here, and here. But this latest study is the most well designed and comprehensive assessment performed to date.
Full text of the study, “Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys,” appears online here.
Members of the Colorado Supreme Court have unanimously affirmed lower courts’ rulings that employers possess the authority to fire employees for their off-the-job use of marijuana. The Court found that the plant’s legal status under state law does not make the act of consuming cannabis “lawful” under the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute.
The Justices opined, “The supreme court holds that under the plain language of section 24-34-402.5, C.R.S. (2014), Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”
The ruling upholds the decision by Dish Network in 2010 to fire employee Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who used cannabis to treat muscle spasticity. Coats failed a random urine screen. Such tests identify the presence of the inert metabolite (byproduct) carboxy-THC, which may be present in urine for weeks or even months after one has ceased using the substance. Consequently, the Justice Department acknowledges, “A positive test result, even when confirmed, only indicates that a particular substance is present in the test subject’s body tissue. It does not indicate abuse or addiction; recency, frequency, or amount of use; or impairment.”
The Colorado decision mirrors those of courts in California, Oregon, and Washington — each of which similarly determined that state laws exempting marijuana consumers from criminal liability do not extend to civil protections in the workplace.
According to a study published last year in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, employees who test positive for carboxy-THC do not possess an elevated risk of workplace accident compared to employees who test negative.
Full text of the decision, Coats v. Dish Network, is here.
Two recent developments illustrate the progress we have made towards ending marijuana prohibition, and the new challenges we face as we push forward into this Brave New World of legalized weed.
In a handful of states, instead of worrying about whether those who grow marijuana will be arrested and jailed, we have the luxury of worrying about such things as whether the marijuana was sprayed with unhealthy pesticides during the cultivation process, and how to minimize the impact the odor from marijuana cultivation sites may have on the neighbors.
Let’s start with the pesticide issue.
One of the principal public health advantages that legalization brings is the ability to require that marijuana be tested by a certified lab before it is sold, assuring the consumer that it is free from potentially harmful insecticides and pesticides. At NORML, as a consumer lobby, this is something we have always supported, but so long as marijuana remained illegal, those protections were impossible to implement. In fact, in states where marijuana prohibition remains intact, any laboratory that tested the product would be risking criminal prosecution for possession and conspiring to sell marijuana. And any elected official, when confronted with this suggestion, would have laughed us out of their office. There is simply no mechanism for assuring the safety or purity of illegal substances, so legalization is a necessary precursor.
But now that marijuana is fully legal in four states; fully decriminalized in Washington, DC; and legalized for some version of medical use in 37 states, this common-sense step to assure the product is safe is feasible.
Breaking with their traditional position that so long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, they would not provide guidance as to which pesticides and insecticides were safe for marijuana, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced they are offering a process under which certain pesticides could be approved for use on marijuana, in those states that now permit legal marijuana use for medical purposes, or for all adults.
This has already surfaced as an issue in Colorado, where the state has reportedly quarantined tens of thousands of marijuana plants because of concerns the crop was doused in harmful chemicals. Without some guidance from the EPA, the licensed growers are caught between their need to protect against infestations such as spider mites, powdery mildew and root rot, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost inventory; and the demands of state regulators and the public for a safe product. Concerned consumers have begun picketing certain retail outlets in CO, claiming they are putting their customers at risk because of their use of pesticides, and advocating for the use of organic pest controls.
This new process announced by the EPA appears to offer a relatively quick process for legal growers to learn which pesticides are safe for use on marijuana, and which are not. The director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Division of Plant Industry has called this regulatory shift “a huge step forward for the EPA, the industry and us. It allows us to move forward in a very normal manner on pesticides for marijuana, just like any other crop.” An important step towards NORMLization of marijuana.
Next, let’s consider the problem with marijuana odor potentially effecting the quality of life of the neighbors.
Some contentiousness between marijuana growers and their neighbors has been simmering for some time, even under prohibition, but with the advance of full legalization, those problems are gaining more attention. And different jurisdictions are dealing with this problem differently.
In Oregon, a state with a “right to farm” statute, farmers are protected from nuisance complaints that might arise because of “customary noises, smells, dust or other nuisances associated with farming.” But that has not kept some neighbors from complaining, and some are asking that growers be required to have a set-back from the adjacent property where marijuana cannot legally be grown, to protect neighbors from the strong odor of marijuana in the late growing cycle and the harvesting period, which some neighbors claim keeps them inside during those times.
And in Colorado, the small town of Basalt in Pitkin County, only a few miles outside of Aspen, is the site of High Valley Farms, a 25,000 square foot indoor cultivation center that supplies one of the 6 retail outlets (the Silverpeak Apothecary) in Aspen. Because of public complaints about the odor of marijuana, the Pitkin County Commissioners have issued a stern warning to High Valley Farms to eradicate the marijuana odor that has infuriated nearby neighbors, or face the termination of their agricultural license when it comes up for renewal in September. The license was granted with the condition that the farm would not emit any smells to the detriment of the lifestyle of nearby residents.
In addition to the complains about the impact on the quality of life, a number of Basalt property owners have also complained that their property values have declined and “what smells like money” to the cultivation center “smells like property devaluation” to the home owners. The CEO of High Valley Farms has acknowledged some technical problems with their smell-mitigation technology, but has promised the problem will be resolved within a few weeks. They obviously have a strong financial incentive to resolve the problem, and quickly.
So while these two new issues are real, there are solutions available and they must be quickly implemented by those in the industry. The pioneers who hold the licenses in this new industry must not be allowed to put the health of consumers at risk, or diminish the quality of life of their neighbors, in their rush to get rich. They must demonstrate they are responsible corporate citizens, or be replaced by others who will.