The Need for Marijuana Lounges

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel March 9, 2015

    An issue which continues to arise in each new state that legalizes or depenalizes marijuana is where those who wish to gather with others who enjoy smoking marijuana are legally permitted to do so.

    This seems like an easy problem to solve — we’ve done it before. At the end of alcohol prohibition, the majority of states legalized and licensed bars and lounges where any adult could legally go to meet friends and enjoy their choice of legal alcohol drinks, and to spend some time with others who enjoy drinking.

    This model of allowing bars and lounges where drinkers can socialize is so universal today that it is somewhat surprising it has not been permitted by any of the first few legalization states. Apparently the social stigma surrounding marijuana smoking had become so significant as a result of the decades of “reefer madness” propaganda, that even those proponents of ending marijuana prohibition have feared a political backlash were they to permit marijuana salons. To me it feels like they are saying “it’s OK to smoke, as long as you stay in the closet”!

    Unfavorable View of Recreational Marijuana Smokers

    This disapproval of recreational marijuana smokers, even by many who favor ending prohibition, was measured in a recent poll commissioned by a group called Third Way, in a national poll conducted in October 2014. This poll found the country nearly equally divided on legalizing recreational marijuana for adults, with 50 percent supporting legalization and 47 percent opposed to it. Bur ominously, the same poll found only 36 percent of respondents said they viewed recreational marijuana users favorably, versus 54 percent unfavorably. Meanwhile, a solid majority (55 percent) viewed medical marijuana users favorably — nearly 20 points higher than recreational users.

    This segment of the population, dubbed the “marijuana middle” by the pollsters, have concluded that marijuana prohibition is a failed public policy, and favor legalization; but they nonetheless disapprove of the recreational use of marijuana. They do not think we should treat marijuana smokers as criminals, but neither do they wish to give it their approval. And it is this lingering anti-marijuana bias that is causing most elected officials to oppose the establishment of marijuana lounges or social clubs.

    For the rabid anti-marijuana crowd, barring marijuana salons has the appeal of retaining a strong message of societal disapproval of marijuana smoking; it is a sop to those who find themselves on the wrong side of history, even as legalization moves forward. That was clearly on the mind of DC Mayor Muriel Browser last week when she sent emergency legislation to the City Council seeking to prevent anyone from renting a facility for a private marijuana party to which the public could attend.

    While the mayor had shown admirable political courage by ignoring threats from a few in Congress who were threatening her with arrest and jail for permitting the new full decriminalization law to take effect in the city, she apparently (no one can ever be sure of an elected official’s motivation) thought permitting the emergence of marijuana lounges to pop-up around the city, charging a fee for entrance (the new law permits adults to give, but not sell, up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult) would be too much for Congress to ignore – like sticking one’s finger in their collective eye.

    While that may well have been a smart political decision in the short run, since some of those disaffected members of Congress had publicly suggested the District might be penalized with budget cuts for allowing the new law to take effect, it is inconsistent with the intent of Initiative 71 that was approved by nearly 70 percent of the voters, and it will inevitably lead to black market versions of marijuana social clubs. Remember the “speakeasies” of the Roaring ’20s?

    Now let me acknowledge that these types of problems are wonderful problems to have. For more than 75 years, marijuana smokers have had to fear being arrested and jailed – sometimes for long periods of time – simply for possessing or using or growing a little marijuana. We reached the peak in 2010 when the country collectively arrested nearly 900,000 Americans on marijuana charges, with nearly 90 percent of those arrests for possession of minor amounts. And while that trend has slowly begun to reverse itself, marijuana smokers continue to be arrested in most states in America. For the millions of marijuana smokers who live in those states, any fight over whether marijuana salons should be permitted must indeed seem like a distant distraction.

    But as we move forward in this transition phase, moving from prohibition to legalization, 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 like-minded people.

    Might Not Want to Permit Alcohol in Marijuana Lounges

    I would like to see some legalization states experiment with a provision that would license marijuana lounges in which food and drink is available for sale, along with marijuana, but no alcohol. In effect, that is the Amsterdam model, with a few exceptions. I propose this as an attractive possibility, for two reasons.

    First, we all recognize that alcohol sometimes causes drinkers to become belligerent and violent, leading to bar fights and worse. Marijuana has no such effect on smokers; in fact, it tends to smooth over those aggressive tendencies we may all occasionally feel, and it is nearly unheard of for a fight to break out at a marijuana party. We can largely avoid those problems if we ban alcohol.

    Second, the research clearly shows that using the two drugs together – marijuana and alcohol – greatly exaggerates the level of impairment beyond that which either drug produces by itself; they are synergistic. So the concern shared by many Americans about marijuana-impaired drivers on the road – a concern which is generally overblown – would become a far greater problem if those who spent some time at a marijuana lounge were later driving home impaired on both marijuana and alcohol. We can save ourselves a lot of problems, both real and political, if we voluntarily keep the two drugs separate.

    But the idea that marijuana smokers are going to limit their marijuana smoking only to their home, or a friend’s home, is unrealistic. Even under prohibition marijuana smokers devise ways to socialize in groups where they can enjoy marijuana, and that will certainly be the case with legalization. So let’s begin to experiment with legal and licensed marijuana lounges, salons and social clubs, and bring this inevitable social practice out of the shadows and above ground.

    Although the District of Columbia is apparently not going to permit marijuana clubs, at least not in the immediate future, there is some hope in other legal states. In Colorado, for example, while Denver has outlawed private social clubs for marijuana smokers, as have many other towns in the state, the County of Pueblo has opted to license marijuana social clubs; and the City of Colorado Springs, which has since prohibited new clubs, have grandfathered in a few social clubs that were in existence prior to the ban.

    Colorado has amended their Clean Indoor Air Act to prohibit marijuana smoking wherever tobacco smoking is prohibited, putting most hotels off limits. Not surprisingly there has been an increase in the number of tickets written for public smoking, since marijuana smokers from out-of-state have no legal alternative.

    In Washington, there are a few private smoking clubs operating quietly in the shadows, but none are yet licensed or regulated. Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes, one of the official sponsors of the new legalization initiative (I-502), has taken the lead in this area, recently releasing a 10-page report calling for the licensing of legal pot 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,” Homes added. His wise advise has yet to be implemented, but it has given a boost to the necessary public discussion.

    Oregon presents an interesting experiment, as they get closer to the July 1 date when marijuana smoking will be legal in the state (the regulated market will not come online until early 2016), as Portland has since 2009 been the site of the grey-market World Famous Cannabis Café, catering to medical cannabis patients, charging an entrance or membership fee, but “giving away” donated marijuana once inside. They operated openly for years as a members-only private club, and have announced they will be re-opening after July 1. There are currently a few other private marijuana social clubs that have opened in Portland, although pending state legislation, if approved, may drive those endeavors back underground.

    In Alaska, the new legal status for marijuana took effect in February, although the provisions for licensed growers and sellers will not be implemented until early 2016 But at least one activist – former TV news reporter Charlo Greene, who walked off her job while on-air with a four-letter expletive last year, proclaiming her intent to focus on helping pass the legalization initiative, has already opened the Alaska Cannabis Club in downtown Anchorage, promising to “give away” marijuana to “members.” But it is to early to know whether marijuana lounges will be permitted to operate openly under the new law.

    As I said, this is a wonderful problem to deal with! We will eventually get licensed lounges in most states in America, and we will eventually stop arresting smokers in the states where that barbaric practice continues. Let’s keep the pressure on in all of those venues.

    It is a great time to be alive for a marijuana smoker. But our work is far from complete.

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    This column was originally posted on Marijuana.com.

    40 responses to “The Need for Marijuana Lounges”

    1. Zach says:

      I know I should not post this here but my friend needs help, she is almost 80 years old and is facing years in prison. This is the one place I knew there would be people that understand, so please help if you can.

    2. Miles says:

      Personally, I really don’t like smoking marijuana and never have; and I don’t want to breathe in others second hand smoke (tobacco or marijuana). I am so very pleased that someone out there had the foresight to create a vaporizer! I wouldn’t want to go to a place where people smoke but absolutely believe that there should be places where people that want to can do so in peace!

    3. TheOracle says:

      Bravo, Keith! Hear, hear!

      One would think that way out in the boondocks there would be more communities willing to allow legal cannabis cafes, smoking lounges along the lines of Amsterdam coffeeshops. Americans who can afford it fly all the hell the way to Amsterdam just for a few days of FREEDOM for the Cannabis Cup or for vacation. You know that they’d easily drive 30 miles or whatever out of the way, like 30 miles away from Denver or wherever to some podunk town of hospitable friendly folks for the freedom of being able to congregate and partake of cannabis with like-minded people indoors, out of the cold, protected from both the elements.

      On a separate rant, where the hell does the FDA get off sending letters to CBD oil producers? They’re back pulling their same old bullshit where the DEA and FDA and NIDA obstruct and downright sabotage (FU SABET!)productive research into the positive uses of cannabis then turn around and pull this shit when somebody else’s findings show that cannabis IS EFFECTIVE for this and that and actually make it available to the sick people, you know, the effing patients who benefit from it. These asshole government agencies just need to get the fuck out of the way, need to ignore their lame-ass prohibitionist mission statements, bend to the will of the voters. As someone who has been battling cancer for a number of years now, this kind of shit pisses me off to no end.



      Another rant: These sheriffs suing Colorado over legalization should just shut the fuck up and move out of state if they don’t respect the will of the voters. Hey, it’s America so love it or leave it! If you don’t like living in cannabis country then leave it, you fuckin’ fascists! Like why don’t you move to Skokie, Illinois, or some other place where there are neonazi idiots who think the same way as you. This bullshit about the conflict of state law versus federal law is racially biased and motivated, and it’s been documented as such historically motivated for making pot illegal in the first place and today is the new Jim Crow, I mean, WTF and then some cops in some communities are scratching their heads why we have situations like Ferguson. Can you recall these sheriffs? Can you demote them? Can you find them better paying jobs somewhere else so you can fill the positions with officers who actually respect the will of the people. I mean, where I live on the Least Coast (we have the Least cannabis freedom of any part of CONUS) some police forces have as much as 65% of police who have admitted to having tried/used marijuana. It doesn’t matter if they put on their job applications that they haven’t used it in the past 5 years or 10 years when they apply, usually either right out of the military or right out of college.

      Any way to get the percentages of cops who have tried cannabis and use it to our favor?

      These prohibitionists just don’t effing get it. So the FDA is trying to coerce, threaten even, companies that make CBD medicines into what, stop making things that help even kids like Charlotte Figgi and all the other people who benefit. These people are fuckin nuts. No way! No how! It just goes to show they don’t give a rat’s ass about mitigating the suffering, and are hellbent on making sure people suffer needlessly even more.

      Barry, you have got to do something about this! Call off the dawgz!

    4. TheOracle says:

      And no way am I voting for Scott Walker or Rand Paul. Cannabis candidates for 2016 my ass! I can vote for a democrat who will pander to me about cannabis to get my vote. Democrats these days are actually legalizing cannabis, so why should I waste my vote on a Republican whose party is the party of NO and will not legalize but rather putting up every roadblock they can at the federal level and even often at the state level? Prohibitionist Republicans are making people who benefit from cannabis, be it medically or recreationally as a safer choice than alcohol suffer needlessly. Why? Simply because they can.

      Scott Walker, union-busting and middle class hating asshole, I will NEVER vote for anyone like you.


    5. Evening Bud says:

      Having been to Amsterdam twice in my life, I can attest to the mellow atmosphere in most coffeeshops there.

      During our first trip, back in 2004, a number of coffeeshops still sold liquor, as well as pot and hash. My wife and I agreed that it was nice being in a place (a city) where people were treated like adults. You didn’t feel like some high school kid sneaking behind the gym to take a toke.

      During our second trip in ’08–it took us four years to save for each trip there–the city, because of pressure from the conservative government that had taken over in office, as well as outside groups, other countries, etc, had ended the policy of coffeeshops being allowed to sell alcohol.

      It was disappointing for my wife (she’s the drinker); and to me, it felt like just a little bit of freedom had been taken away. (Again, thanks to the pressure from the above mentioned.)

      My point, however, is that the coffeeshops were perfectly safe and relaxed places to toke. Most of them even had tables on the sidewalks outside their front doors, so tokers could enjoy the sun, the nice breeze, etc. while partaking. It was in a word idyllic, almost like a dream.

      Unlike some American bars I frequented in the past during my drinking years, there were NEVER any worries of aggressiveness from other patrons in the MJ coffeeshops. With the exception of the occasional (very occasional) snooty budtender, in fact (most of whom were younger, and perhaps didn’t care for foreign tourists), we found no animosity in those coffeshops whatever.

      You barely noticed most of those coffeeshops, while walking on the sidewalks of Amsterdam, they were so innocuous, blending in as they did with the shoe stores and book stores and whatever. You had to actively look for them to notice them. (Some of the larger tourists joints, the English Bulldog and such, were obviously easy to spot, tho they were definitely in the minority.)

      I see no reason, except for the reefer-madness prejudice against pot smokers, for not opening similar MJ smoking establishments here in the U.S. It’d be nice to be treated like an adult again.

    6. mexweed says:

      1. Here’s an idea how to grandfather in some safe moderate drinking at a cannabis social space. Permit each customer per night to have up to three of:

      * A little 2-fl-oz “airline bottle” with beer or wine– worth up to ten mentally counted mini-sips.

      * An ampule or mini-squeezetube of a half ounce of rum, gin, whicky, vodka, etc.– in ALCO-GEL form, i.e. safe from guzzling hurriedly down as “drinker” suckers have done in the alcoholic precannabinoid society (like, the non-resealable 12-ounce overdose cans which say, drink it all now, hours later it”ll be flat and no good’).

      You squirt a small amount of goo right out of the tube into your mouth, swish and lather it with your smart tongue, get the famous educational hyper taste and the sting-y tongue tingle etc., get your scientific saliva introduced to every molecule of the material before swallowing.

      2. Cannabis moderation management

      (A) Use 25-mg single toke utensils instead of 500-mg joint,, blunt, $pliff, $igarette, Bidi, Kretek etc. No waste, no $ide-
      $tream $moke.

      (B) Replace tobacco with cannabis, alfalfa, borage, coriander, dandelion, eucalyptus, fir needle, ginseng leaf, hops flower, OREGANO etc.

      (C) Vape instead of smoke:


      Yes, there is an easy-learn method to VAPE with a flexdrawtube one-hitter made from $1.29 worth of parts found in your garage.

      Combining these two moderation strategies, everyone will get better use, education and art out of both the Drug and the Herb.

    7. Abraham Linking says:

      The posted link to
      “This column was originally posted on Marijuana.com”
      is BROKEN…
      (just generates a “414 Request URI Too Large” ERROR).

      Valid link for
      “It’s a Social Thing: Why We Need Marijuana Lounges” is at:


    8. Mark I. says:

      liquor by the drink has become toking by the bud.

    9. Galileo Galilei says:

      Bars with parking lots. I used to play music in bars. I know what shape most of the people who leave when the bar closes are in.

      A drunk will drive 50 miles an hour through the center of town, weaving in and out of lanes, cutting people off, then still wonder why the cops stopped him.

      A stoner is aware of his impairment and will compensate. Yet we measure metabolites of marijuana down to the nanogram, while bars with parking lots are legal.

      What’s wrong with this picture?

    10. Miles says:

      @Galileo Galilei – “What’s wrong with this picture?”

      I’m pretty sure any NORML member could easily answer that question! It is a question I’m sure the Congress would need to spend about a billion dollars on to get the answer and even then they would fight and wine about it…