Could change be right around the corner?


Words by Ellen Holland

As the legalization of cannabis barrels ever-forward toward a critical tipping point in this November’s election, more and more states will get the opportunity to decide whether adults can be trusted to use marijuana responsibly. But will cannabis enthusiasts be able to experience the same rights of passage as those who reach the minimum drinking age?

Don’t count on it. Even in states like Colorado, where it has been legal for adults to purchase marijuana at storefronts since 2014, sharing a puff in social setting beyond one’s own home remains an illegal act.

While Denverites will get the opportunity to vote on a ballot initiative that could officially sanction marijuana lounges in the upcoming election, cities in other recreational marijuana strongholds such as Alaska, Oregon and Washington State continue to uphold an outright ban on the Amsterdam-style coffeeshop model. Despite these bans, America’s marijuana smoke scene is thriving as like-minded adults continue to uphold their first amendment right to peacefully assemble and embrace a speakeasy membership-only style model last seen in the days of alcohol prohibition. Whether it’s a secret lounge in the back of a haberdashery in downtown Denver or a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, adults across America are making the safer choice to consume cannabis with others rather than ordering another round at the bar.

In California, the state’s rights push for medical marijuana began more than twenty years ago in a dispensary and smoking lounge called the Cannabis Buyers’ Club. Initially located in a small San Francisco apartment, the second iteration of the CBC was a 2,000-square foot space located above a bar on the corner of Church and Market streets near the Mission District. Captivating visitors’ eyes with 10-foot tall ceilings and a huge swath of rainbow flag, crystals and brightly-colored stained glass in the windows, the club also fulfilled important social and emotional needs: a place for AIDS patients to purchase their medication and emerge from the isolation of their illnesses.

Today, as the Golden State looks towards another push for adult-use marijuana, one that could clear the way for recreational lounges, San Francisco, and most-recently the city of Oakland, remain the only place in the state that to issue business licenses allowing spaces for patients to safely medicate.

Smoking lounges, whether open to adult-use or medical patients, can stand as models of responsible cannabis consumption. Employees and patrons can help new users learn how to smoke marijuana at a rate that brings them to a comfortable high. And unlike edibles, which dominate the market in adult-use states due to a combination of inexperienced users and a lack of places to consume marijuana flower, smoking cannabis allows a user to understand, almost instantaneously just how high they are getting. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd discovered, smoking cannabis with others is less harmful than being holed up alone on a bad trip in your hotel room.

To reign in the potential danger of consumers experiencing discomforting highs due to excessive cannabis consumption, Colorado and states across the country should allow safe smoking spaces for adults to thrive.