One of the next frontiers in the political battles for marijuana smokers is the need to provide venues where marijuana smokers can socialize with other marijuana smokers in a marijuana-friendly lounge. Under current laws in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and the District of Columbia, it is perfectly legal for smokers to possess specified amounts of marijuana, but they are only legally allowed 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.
This is particularly important to the many tourists who visit those states, as most will have nowhere legal to smoke their legal cannabis. Most hotels don’t allow cannabis consumption, and public marijuana smoking is outlawed – meaning there are a lot of people with no place to go to enjoy their legal bud.
That is about to change.
Can you imagine for a moment what the alcohol scene would look like today if alcohol drinkers were precluded from drinking at bars, and only allowed to drink alcohol in a private home? That would largely eliminate the lively night life scene in every city in America, and it would surely result in the rise of speakeasies, clandestine illegal bars similar to those that arose in several states before the end of alcohol prohibition.
It is equally absurd to suggest that the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana, once it is legalized, will have to limit their marijuana smoking to private homes. There is absolutely no policy justification for this limitation, and smokers will always find a way around it.
The choice: Regulate smoking lounges or smoke-easies will proliferate.
It is the nature of a free market. If the government does not license and regulate the market, those willing to operate in the “grey zone” will fill the void and develop venues where marijuana smokers can socialize with other marijuana smokers. There are currently smoke-easies operating in many cities, in states that have legalized marijuana. But because these are not technically legal, the state and local jurisdiction does not receive the tax revenue, nor can they regulate the qualify or safety of the product. When marijuana is being sold illegally, the products are not tested in a certified laboratory for molds and pesticides, nor is there any way to assure the labeling is accurate as to the strength of the drug.
Marijuana smoking is a social activity better enjoyed with friends, so the only real question is whether these marijuana-friendly clubs will continue to be clandestine, or whether they will be licensed and regulated and above ground.
A licensed and regulated system, with age controls, is far preferable to grey market “smoke-easies.”
This push for smoking lounges is currently being principally fought in Alaska, within the state agency developing the rules for legal marijuana in that state; and in Denver, where two versions for social marijuana use were competing for the November ballot.
The situation in Alaska.
First, let’s look at the Alaska situation. Last November, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board issued draft regulations to define when and where “on-site consumption” would be permitted. The proposed regulations have for several months been open for public comment and were expected to be approved this past week, but that vote has now been delayed until October.
While the proposed regulations are still tentative, marijuana cafes would be permitted in Alaska 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, an early version of the regulations said the legal smokers would be required to leave any unfinished marijuana behind to be destroyed, although this was met with some strong opposition, and has now been deleted. Customers would now be permitted to reseal their unused marijuana and take it with them. Also, marijuana “happy hours” would not be permitted, although marijuana lounges would be permitted to sell food and non-alcohol beverages.
It appears that Alaska may well become the first state to license marijuana lounges, some of which could be up and running within a few months. It is incredibly important for the legalization movement nationwide for a couple of states to move forward to experiment with new marijuana-friendly venues, to serve as a living experiment, which other states can evaluate when they are facing these same issues down the road. If the initial experience with marijuana lounges is generally successful, and if the lounges do not present any unintended consequences in the communities they serve, other states that legalize marijuana will want to incorporate this specific wrinkle in their policy.
Alaska is set to be our first social use club demonstration.
The Denver, Colorado experience.
Denver presents a different situation, as there the effort to legalize social use venues is being fought by way of a city-wide voter initiative. In fact, there were two competing marijuana lounge initiatives being circulated this fall.
One (proposed by Denver NORML and the Committee for the Responsible Use Initiative in Denver) that would have established licenses for marijuana only (no alcohol) social use clubs and for special events, was a grass-roots undertaking, and despite a valiant effort, the sponsors fell short of the required number of registered voters (5,000), so that proposal will not be on the ballot this fall.
Jordan Person, the chief advocate, said she was surprised by the number of rejected signatures for the group’s private clubs initiative, adding that it underlined the need for more voter registration drives.
“You know, we’re not going to stop,” she told me, arguing that private clubs are the better solution to the need for places where people, including tourists, can consume marijuana together.
The second proposal for social use clubs was proposed at the last minute, offered as a competing initiative by the Cannabis Consumption Committee, an industry group that had qualified a similar measure for the ballot in 2015 before pulling it from the ballot at the last minute, in a failed attempt to work with the City Council. Over a thirty-day period, with industry funding, the group managed to collect 10,800 signatures to qualify.
(One would naturally ask why there would be competing social use voter initiatives; were they so different that a reasonable compromise could not have been reached, offering a united social use initiative? The answer, of course, is that individual personalities and egos naturally get involved, and in this case, despite an extraordinary effort by Denver NORML attorney Judd Golden and Executive Director Jordan Person to reach an accord with the industry group, in the end, a compromise was not possible. So we were left with two competing social use initiatives being circulated for signatures in Denver.)
The initiative that did qualify for the ballot would permit certain bars and restaurants to obtain a social use license in which marijuana edibles and vaporizers could be used, but no marijuana could be smoked (because of Colorado’s strong indoor clean air act), and approval would have to be obtained from neighborhood groups and business improvement districts before any such license could be awarded. This requirement may well prove a somewhat challenging proposition in today’s world of NIMBY (not in my backyard), as neighborhood groups may be fearful of the social consequences of allowing marijuana products to be consumed in conjunction with alcohol.
The proposal would establish a four-year pilot program, requiring the city to study the measure’s effectiveness. By the end of 2020, the City Council could allow it to expire, make it permanent or tweak its provisions.
So we are left in Denver with a proposal that we should all support, as it moves us a little closer to the goal of being allowed to smoke marijuana with friends in a social setting, outside a private home. But it remains to be seen how many neighborhood associations are likely to allow the issuance of licenses. Nonetheless, it does recognize the need for responsible marijuana smokers to have a place to congregate where they can socialize with other smokers. And we should all do what we can to get the Denver social use initiative approved by the voters in November.
It’s certainly not a perfect social use initiative, assuming the goal remains to treat marijuana like alcohol, but as this is new territory for the legalization movement, we should use this proposal to try to demonstrate that social use clubs are a viable alternative to the current policy of limiting marijuana smoking to a private home.
The most current polling suggests the proposal is favored by a clear majority (56 percent) of voters in Denver.
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.” The city of Denver and the state of Alaska are exercising that important role as we move forward with new and improved versions of legalization. What we learn from these initial experiments with marijuana social clubs will inform subsequent cities and states in the coming years.
Statewide marijuana legalization efforts in Ohio have proven to be more difficult than many expected. After Ohio voters overwhelming rejected Issue 3 – a well-funded ballot initiative, that would have legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over, but also contained severe restrictions with regard to retail production of the plant – many advocates promised to return with a better plan for marijuana consumers. But those plans were quickly derailed after the Ohio General Assembly established a limited, yet workable medical marijuana program with the passage of House Bill 523.
With no statewide initiative, many activists decided to shift their focus to working with state lawmakers to strengthen HB 523 by expanding access and advocating for amendments to permit for home cultivation for patients and caregivers. And since the possession of less than 100 grams (roughly 3.5 ounces) of marijuana is considered a “minor misdemeanor,” punishable by a maximum fine of $150 plus $100 in court costs, some activists found themselves complacent with the status quo. After considering these points, members of Ohio Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) decided to explore reform options on the local level.
Taking a page out of their own playbook, Eleanor Ahrens and Chad Thompson, led by executive director Cher Neufer, decided they would retool a local decriminalization measure that was approved by Toledo voters in 2015. With this strategy the group set their sights on several municipalities across the state. Activists in the municipalities of Newark Bellaire, Bellevue, Cleveland, Elyria, Logan, Huron, Athens and Norwood, as well as in Lucas County, started to collect signatures for a “complete decriminalization” measure that would further decriminalize the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana flower, up to 10 grams of concentrates, paraphernalia, by removing all fines and court costs.
“Complete Decrim is a new innovative way to make any misdemeanor offense basically legal,” Neufer said. “With no fines, no jail time, no drivers license suspension, and no court costs, we are making the police just walk away from misdemeanor marijuana offenses as if it were a legal substance.”
To date, the group has successfully qualified the measure for the municipal ballot in the cities of Newark and Logan this November, but fell short in the city of Athens. Activists with Ohio NORML plan to continue their effort. An effort that could extend well into 2017. For more information about or to get involved with Ohio NORML, please email firstname.lastname@example.org today!
Jordan Person, executive director of the Denver Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) submitted roughly 8,000 signatures this week to Denver’s Election Division with the hope of qualifying the Responsible Use Initiative for this November’s ballot. Relying on the hard work and dedication of more than twenty grassroots activists, the Denver NORML team worked tirelessly for more than three months educating voters on the issue and collecting signatures throughout the city. The campaign needs a total of 4,726 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“I could not be more proud of the grassroots movement Denver NORML has created. Our volunteers sacrificed every moment they could to work hard for this campaign.” Person said. “It was an easy choice for most because of how much they believe in the initiative they are fighting for. As we go through this interim period of waiting, hoping and preparing we look forward to the future with excitement.”
If certified for the ballot, Denver voters will be among the first in the nation to decide whether to regulate legal private marijuana clubs for adults 21 and over.
Officials with Denver Elections have 25 days to verify the campaign’s signatures. Regardless of the outcome, this has been a groundbreaking effort to normalize the consumption of marijuana in America.
In addition to Denver NORML’s Responsible Use Campaign, voters in the city might also have the opportunity to vote on a similar, yet more limited proposal that would restrict consumers to vaping in predesignated areas.
My name is Randy Quast and I am NORML’s new Acting Executive Director. Let me be the first to welcome you to a new era at NORML.
I’m from Minnesota. My background is in business. I worked my way up in trucking, starting with my family’s small 10-employee trucking company in the 1980s. I worked in various departments of the company and eventually became president and CEO in 1988. By the time I sold the company ten years later, it employed 700 people in 23 service centers in 10 Midwestern states and had revenues over $50 million a year.
After retiring, I turned my love of flying into 2,500 flight-hours. I volunteered myself and my airplane to AirLifeLine to fly patients who couldn’t afford commercial flights to receive medical treatments. I eventually became the president and CEO of that non-profit until we merged with another similar organization. The combined companies still operate today under the name Angel Flight.
Coming Out of the Closet
But throughout my previous careers, I had always been a regular marijuana consumer — a corporate stoner, if you will. But like many in similar positions, I kept that information private. It wasn’t until 2007 that I was forced out of the cannabis closet and into the arms of NORML.
While out for dinner one evening a thief broke in my home and dragged my safe, where I stored my marijuana, out the back door. When neighbors confronted the thief, he ran, leaving the safe in the middle of my back yard.
When I came home, there were cop cars all around my home. I’d left an aluminum one-hitter in the bathroom. That led to cops’ suspicions about what was in my safe. That led to a search warrant and a SWAT raid of my home. The three ounces in my safe led to a felony possession charge.
Because I was fortunate to be a white person and able to afford an attorney, I received a stay of adjudication with two years’ probation. When my probation ended in 2009, I attended my first NORML Conference in Portland, Oregon. I then returned home to start Minnesota NORML in 2010. Recently, I moved to Oregon in 2015 and co-founded Portland NORML.
Now, I’m in Washington, D.C., working to take National NORML into the next era, one that includes continuing the fight for legalization in places like Minnesota and includes expanding the rights of legal cannabis consumers in places like Oregon.
Positioning NORML For the Future
NORML has formed a search committee to find a new, permanent Executive Director. In the interim, we’re continuing our important work. We’re educating lawmakers and judges on the scientific truth about cannabis, public policy, and health.
We’re supporting our chapters and grassroots supporters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada as they push for legalization in 2016 and we are supporting our chapters and advocates in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, and Montana as they fight to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest.
We’re are also working with congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill to pass legislation needed to secure banking and tax relief for our legal marijuana industries.
On the state level, we’re working with legislators to reduce marijuana penalties and to increase patients’ access, while also organizing municipal initiatives to permit social use and to mitigate criminal sanctions.
In the past few months, we’ve witnessed many successes on the state level. Three states have enacted legislation to permit medical marijuana access while many others have expanded access to greater numbers of patients. Many states have amended their laws to significantly reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana or cannabis paraphernalia, while other states have taken steps to authorize the growing of industrial hemp.
As we look forward to the future, specifically this November, we realize that our role is more important than ever. With voters deciding on nine marijuana-specific ballot measures, this election is the most important in recent memory. And the results of Election Day hold the potential to transform American public policy.
So, as I begin this new chapter at NORML I ask all of you to join me. Please help usher in this new era by making a donation today of $50.00 or more to NORML. Your donation will help assure that we continue to play a necessary role in shaping public opinion and policy in such a way that puts the needs of responsible marijuana consumers first. As the nation continues to engage in this ongoing narrative regarding legalization, there exists a greater need than ever for politicians, media, and policy analysts to seek guidance and expertise from NORML with regard to the benefits of regulation as well as the health and societal effects of responsible cannabis consumption.
I’m excited to do my part to make NORML the best organization it can be and I hope you’ll join me.
The DEA announced that they will amend their quotas for 2017 regarding the cultivation of research-grade marijuana and hemp legalization bills in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have been signed into law! We also have updates from Illinois, Florida, and Ohio. Keep reading to learn the latest in marijuana law reform news from around the country and to find out how you can #TakeAction!
In a notice published in the Federal Register, Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg proposed amending the amount of marijuana that may be produced under federal license in 2017 to approximately 1,041 pounds. The agency alleges that this quantity will be sufficient to provide for the “estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the United States.”
The US Drug Enforcement Administration is also preparing to respond to an administrative petition calling for the reclassification of marijuana as a schedule I prohibited substance. Their determination was originally expected in the first half of 2016 but it has yet to be released.
Florida: Next Tuesday, the state’s first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary will open to the public. Trulieve, a licensed cannabis cultivator and distributor, will provide a high CBD, low THC strain of the plant to patients that are registered with the state. However, as of today not a single eligible patient is registered with the state to legally access the product. This is because Florida’s law, initially passed in 2014, is among the strictest in the country. Under the law, patients diagnosed with cancer, seizures, or intractable muscle spasms are eligible for CBD-dominant cannabis, while those diagnosed with a terminal illness are eligible for THC-dominant cannabis. To date, however, only 15 physicians in the state are participating in the program.
Illinois: Two months ago lawmakers voted in favor of Senate Bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But Governor Bruce Rauner has yet to sign the measure into law. The bill makes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200 — no arrest and no criminal record. Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1,500. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law.
#TakeAction and contact Governor Rauner to urge him to sign this legislation into law.
Ohio: Governor John Kasich has signed legislation so that certain drug offenses are no longer punishable by a mandatory loss of one’s driver’s license. Under previous law, any drug conviction carried a mandatory driver’s license suspension of at least six months, even in cases where the possession offense did not take place in a vehicle. Senate Bill 204 makes such suspensions discretionary rather than mandatory. The law will take effect September 13th, 2016.
Pennsylvania: On Wednesday, July 20th, Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation, House Bill 967, to establish “a pilot program to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.” The new law took immediate effect. Twenty-eight states have now enacted similar legislation.
Rhode Island: Governor Gina Raimondo has signed legislation, H8232, to establish rules for the commercial, licensed cultivation of hemp in the state. The legislation creates the “Hemp Growth Act” to treat hemp as an agricultural product that may be legally produced, possessed, distributed and commercially traded. The Department of Business Regulation will be responsible for establishing rules and regulations for the licensing and regulation of hemp growers and processors.