Throughout the campaigns to legalize marijuana in eight states so far, a familiar refrain has been, “Treat Marijuana Like Alcohol.”
Yet, in all eight states, we’re not even close to treating marijuana like alcohol.
Where, in any state, may adults only purchase a limited amount of alcohol, only from stores with opaque windows with little to no signage; where onsite consumption may not occur; where only alcohol may be sold in opaque childproof packages, limited to only 20 proof, free from any colors, flavors, shapes or designs that appeal to children; to be consumed only in private at a home one owns or a rental with the owner’s explicit permission to do so?
Nowhere has this separate-and-unequal treatment of marijuana and alcohol been better exemplified than in the battle over social consumption licensing in the wake of Denver’s passage of Initiative 300.
What is it about pot lounges that so befuddles our lawmakers?
They seem to be concerned that we’re proposing the opening of buildings in Denver specifically for taking drugs and getting high. They’re worried we’ll allow adults to drive their cars to these buildings, go inside and take drugs to get high, then just trust them to evaluate whether they’re sober enough to drive themselves home after getting high.
They’re worried that if we have these buildings, in which adults get high, situated too closely to places where children congregate, the kids will be convinced that taking drugs to get high is cool, and they’ll go on to take drugs themselves, later in life, if not, sooner.
They’re worried about the liabilities of allowing adults to take drugs and get high in these drug buildings, and how allowing adults to get high at other public venues, like sporting events and concerts, might lead to the children seeing some high adults committing social disorder.
Funny how none of that bothers lawmakers so much when the buildings are bars, the drug is alcohol and the high is drunk, huh?
The rules proposed by the committee working to implement Initiative 300 in Denver are preposterous.
Rule makers propose that venues have a choice: they can either have alcohol licenses or have marijuana licenses. The worry is that combining alcohol and marijuana consumption leads to far more impairment.
But such a rule has the unintended consequence of redlining marijuana licensing only to a few venues of far lower quality in far-flung locations. Most quality public venues are going to have an alcohol license, since far more people drink, and it would never make economic sense to drop that in favor of a marijuana license.
Besides, people are consuming marijuana at alcohol bars already; it just happens in bathrooms and dark parking lots, where servers cannot monitor it. And I’ve never heard of a bar demanding its patrons consume no legal prescription drugs while drinking, where the drug interactions can cause far worse impairment than marijuana and booze do.
Rule makers propose that adults must sign a form before entering a licensed marijuana consumption area that must be 1,000 feet away from where kids congregate.
Yet no adults must sign forms to get into licensed alcohol consumption areas, which must only be 500 feet away from the kids, unless we’re talking about restaurants, theaters and other venues where adults can bring their kids and drink alcohol right in front of them.
Rule makers propose that marijuana-licensed establishments can’t share space in a parcel with any liquor-licensed establishment. This is to prevent, say, Bob’s Bud Bar and Larry’s Liquor Lounge from being at two separate legal addresses, yet connected in the same building or sharing the same patio.
But the unintended consequence here is that Bob’s Bud Bar and Larry’s Liquor Lounge then couldn’t even be in the same strip mall or business park.
Rule makers propose that marijuana-event licensing couldn’t happen at public-owned locations, like the city plaza, where the 420 Rally happens, or Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Yet the booze sales at brewfests in public parks and concerts at Red Rocks will continue as always.
Other proposals by the rule makers include no advertising for businesses providing marijuana consumption, while kids are still bombarded by comparable ads for alcohol; making the marijuana permits non-transferrable, while the market in similar liquor permitting is not so restricted; and limiting the maximum edible serving to 80 milligrams of THC, while the same consumer can buy a 100-milligram product in a dispensary and numerous bottles of 190-proof Everclear alcohol in a liquor store.
When we voted for Treat Marijuana Like Alcohol, we meant it!
Make no mistake, this is not the separate-and-unequal treatment of two substances; this is the rank discrimination against the people who use the safer of the two for reasons that would shut down every bar in the state.
We took the two most dangerous drugs out there—alcohol and tobacco—and figured out how to accommodate the public use of those by adults. The former impairs and alters mind and body; the latter emits a mildly dangerous smoke byproduct that offends some.
Marijuana does a little of both, but to a lesser extent. So, just take the rules we have for smoking and drinking and apply them to toking!
This isn’t porn, PCP or plutonium—it’s pot! This doesn’t have to be so difficult, Denver.
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