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.
More than seven in ten Californians say that they favor voting ‘yes’ on Proposition 64: the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, according to polling data compiled by the CALSPEAKS Opinion Research Center at Sacramento State.
Seventy-one percent of respondents say that they are leaning toward voting in favor of the statewide initiative. Public support is strongest among those between the ages of 18 and 34 (84 percent) Latinos (81 percent), Democrats (80 percent), those between the ages of 50 and 64 (74 percent), and Independents (72 percent).
The poll’s margin of error is +/- four percentage points.
Polling data compiled last month by by the Institute of Government Studies at the University of California, Berkeley reported that 64 percent of California voters believe, “Marijuana should be legal for adults to purchase and use recreationally, with government regulations similar to the regulation of alcohol.”
Proposition 64 permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.” Proposition 64 is endorsed by the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML.
Similar adult use measures will also appear on the ballot this November in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.
A summary of 2016 statewide ballot measures and their status is online here.
The principal objective of the progressive movement was eliminating corruption in government, and to accomplish that goal, proponents sought ways to take down the powerful and corrupt political bosses and to provide access by ordinary Americans to the political system – a concept called direct democracy, as contrasted to representative democracy.
It was during this period that the concept of direct primaries to nominate candidates for public office, direct election of U.S. senators, and universal suffrage for women gained traction. And, most important to our work, the procedures known as referendum and initiatives began to be adopted in several states.
In 1902, Oregon was the first state to adopt the option of initiative and referendum to change public policy, permitting citizens to directly introduce or approve proposed laws or constitutional amendments. This process was called an initiative if the change originated by action of citizens, without the involvement of the legislature, and as a referendum if it originated from the legislature but was referred to the voters to decide.
By 1920, a total of 22 states had adopted provisions modeled on the Oregon system. Today, a total of 24 states offer a voter initiative. In the rest of the states, the only avenue to change public policy is through the state legislature.
This brief history of direct democracy is relevant today because it is this access to direct political action by voters that has allowed marijuana legalization to move forward, years earlier than would have been politically possible through the action of state legislatures.
The four states and the District of Columbia that have approved full legalization for all adults, and the five states that will be voting on full legalization in November, all rely on voter initiatives. These progressive procedures have worked precisely as they were intended back in the Progressive Era: They have allowed citizens to go around the establishment to alter the status quo.
Voter initiatives are unpopular among most elected officials.
Altering the status quo has not taken place without some legal kicking and screaming by the elected officials in those states. It comes as no surprise that most elected officials do not appreciate the fact that public policies in their states can, when necessary, be changed without their consent.
As we approach the end of summer and the coming fall elections, we once again see examples of the extraordinary time and resources many establishment politicians and other anti-marijuana zealots are willing to invest to try to prevent citizens in their states from voting directly on marijuana policy.
The reason, of course, is obvious. According to recent national polls, a clear majority of the American public (between 55 and 61 percent) supports an end to marijuana prohibition. If given the opportunity to vote on the issue, they will vote to legalize marijuana.
Elected officials, who otherwise claim to represent the will of the voters in their states, and other self-appointed moral guardians, go to great lengths to try to stop the votes from happening.
Democracy is something they support so long as the public favors the same policies they favor. When the public gets out ahead of the establishment, democracy be damned; they will use any tools available, including procedural and constitutional challenges, to avoid allowing the voters to decide the issue.
Full legalization proposals.
We will have full legalization measures on the ballot in five states this fall: Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, and California. A sixth, Michigan, would have qualified but for last-minute legislation.
In several of the states with pending initiatives, establishment prohibitionists have gone to court in a desperate effort to get the courts to intervene to keep the measures off the ballot.
In Maine, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap attempted to invalidate a significant number of the signatures gathered by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine, arguing that the signature of a single notary did not match the one on file with the state. Fortunately, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy overruled Dunlap’s decision. When the signatures were recounted, the measure, Question 1, qualified for the ballot.
In Massachusetts, once the Secretary of State had qualified the legalization initiative for the ballot, a group of prohibitionists calling themselves the Safe and Healthy Massachusetts Campaign sued to have the measure removed from the ballot, claiming it violated the constitutional limitation prohibiting an initiative from dealing with two unrelated topics. This challenge was subsequently dismissed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and the measure, Question 4, will now appear on the November ballot.
In Arizona, a group calling itself Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy — including two prominent country prosecutors and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce — filed suit to try to keep the legalization initiative off the ballot, after it had been qualified by the Secretary of State. The group claimed that the 100-word summary (a limit set by statute) did not accurately reflect everything contained in the 30-page proposal. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry rejected the argument and approved the measure, Proposition 205, for the ballot.
In California — the big enchilada for the 2016 elections and a state in which opponents to an initiative are permitted to include on the ballot their reasons for opposing the proposal — it was the proponents who went to court. The Yes on 64 advocates successfully challenged all six arguments that opponents had wanted to appear on the ballot, and Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang found all six “false and misleading.” She ordered the opponents to modify their arguments, most of which falsely claimed the initiative would permit pro-marijuana ads to appear on radio and television and would appeal to children.
And in Michigan, where proponents, MI Legalize, had turned in a sufficient number of signatures (more than 350,000) to qualify a legalization measure for the ballot, the state legislature quickly rammed through a new law in June declaring signatures older than 180 days to be invalid, leaving proponents shy of the required number of signatures. Proponents have filed suit against the state, challenging the new limitations on constitutional grounds, but it appears the appeal will not be decided in time for the initiative to appear on the 2016 ballot, even if the appeal succeeds.
Of the five full-legalization initiatives that will appear on the ballot this fall, only the Nevada initiative, Question 2, was free from a court challenge. Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller certified the proposal for the ballot at the end of 2014. While there are certainly organized opponents, none elected to challenge the measure in court.
In the short term, proponents of legalization will continue to focus efforts in the states that offer the option of a voter initiative. So long as our elected officials, and the establishment interests they represent, continue to support the status quo of prohibition, it makes sense strategically to bypass the state legislature where possible.
But that is a strategy that must eventually evolve, as 26 states simply do not offer that option. For that half of the country, we will have to win the old-fashioned way: By building majority support among state legislators to pass the proposal through the legislature.
It’s a significant challenge for sure, but as we’ve demonstrated with the drive to legalize medical marijuana, after a few more states have adopted legalization by voter initiative, enacting legalization by statute will become more realistic.
For those who live in one of the 26 states without an initiative process, we must continue the painfully slow process of convincing individual legislators that prohibition of marijuana is a failed public policy and that full legalization makes sense.
Many already understand this but continue to fear being labeled “soft on drugs” should they acknowledge the obvious. It is frustrating to have to win over supporters one at a time, but each year it becomes easier as public support for legalization continues to increase, and elected officials ignore the wishes of their constituents at their own peril.
This column first ran on ATTN:
As more and more states continue to embrace some form of legal cannabis, it’s important that we begin to examine what partnership opportunities exist among the thousands of emerging cannabis-related companies that are eager to promote their products and/or services to NORML’s vast network of cannabis consumers and advocates. But where do we begin? From marketing and public relations, to growing supplies and consumer products, the possibilities are endless.
After much consideration, NORML has decided to engage in partnerships with companies that genuinely support our organization’s mission of reforming cannabis laws on the local, state and federal level. These are companies that understand the need to invest in ending the mass incarceration of nonviolent marijuana consumers and that are committed to ending the federal prohibition of marijuana.
With that said, please join us in welcoming Black Rock Originals as an official sponsor of NORML. Like our other partners, Black Rock Originals founders Tommy Joyce and Nick Levich, are committed to seeing the federal prohibition of cannabis come to an end. Founded in 2014, Black Rock Originals designs, markets and distributes the “Safety Case,” a discreet, travel-friendly cannabis kit for the modern consumer. From rolling and smoking to vaporizing and dabbing, their convenient kit has all the essentials a cannabis consumer would need while on the go.
“I believe it’s imperative for both companies and consumers in the cannabis space to vote with their dollar. Consumers have the power to educate themselves and support cannabis businesses who are positively impacting the industry’s legalization efforts, and in turn, that revenue can be allocated to supporting the critical reform efforts our fledgling industry needs,” Tommy said. “ We pride ourselves on providing a high level of service with an emphasis on transparency and education – two values that the cannabis industry has traditionally struggled to embrace.”
Through the support of responsible cannabis-related companies like Black Rock Originals that believe in NORML’s mission, we will be able to continue and expand our efforts to end the war on responsible cannabis consumers.
Fewer young people are reporting that marijuana is ‘easy’ to obtain, according to an analysis released this week by the US Centers for Disease Control.
Investigators from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the CDC evaluated annual data compiled by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for the years 2002 to 2014. Researchers reported that the percentage of respondents aged 12 to 17 years who perceived marijuana to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent during this time period. Among those ages 18 to 25, marijuana’s perceived availability decreased by three percent.
Researchers further reported that “since 2002, the prevalence of marijuana use and initiation among U.S. youth has declined” – a finding that is consistent with numerous prior studies.
By contrast, authors reported an uptick in use among adults. However, they acknowledged that this increase in adult marijuana consumption has not been associated with a parallel increase in problematic use. There has been “steady decreases in the prevalence of marijuana dependence and abuse among adult marijuana users since 2002,” the study found. Those adults experiencing the greatest percentage increase in marijuana use during the study period were respondents over the age of 55.
A separate analysis of the data published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry similarly acknowledged no observed increase in marijuana use disorders. A previous assessment of marijuana use patterns since 2002, published earlier this year in JAMA Psychiatry, also reported a decline in the percentage of adults reporting problems related to their marijuana use.
Full text of the CDC study, “National estimates of marijuana use and related indicators – National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002-2014,” appears online here.