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“Legal Marijuana” Shouldn’t Mean “Only In Your Home”

Russ Belville

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Sure, marijuana may be legal in four states now, but not if you want to use it outside of your home.

Colorado clamped down on private marijuana clubs, forcing Mason Tvert and Brian Vicente to begin a campaign to legalize pot bars in Denver.

Washington passed a bill making any sort of public accommodation for adult pot smokers a felony, forcing Seattle Hempfest to abandon last years’ designated adult toking areas and counter-productively forcing all the toking out into the open for all the public to see.

Oregon has decided any venue with a liquor license is a public place where marijuana can’t be used, even if the venue isn’t serving liquor at the time, forcing High Times into a scramble to find a place for its Portland Cannabis Cup event.

Alaska is now moving to shut down the few bring-your-own-buds, volunteer-run venues that sprang up.

Quick – can you name any legal product that is only legal if the public can’t see you using it?

Guns? No, you can carry around your hunting rifle on a rack in the back of your pickup truck while you drive to public lands to use it outdoors. Or you can go to a building open to the public for the express purpose of shooting targets for fun.

Tobacco? Sure, there have been a lot of restrictions on smoking lately. But there are plenty of outdoors places where you can smoke cigarettes in full view of the public.

Alcohol? Yes, there are laws against public drunkenness and open containers. But there are plenty of places where you can drink alcohol, both indoors and outdoors.

So why in the four legal marijuana states do the laws require the sequestration of pot smokers to their homes with the curtains drawn?

Aside from sex toys (and even then there are private clubs), I can’t think of any other legal product that requires its use to remain out of public view in order to remain legal.

So it was a shock to read an opinion from NORML’s founder and my good friend Keith Stroup in Denver’s The Cannabist expressing that public marijuana consumption should be limited to political protests, or smoke-outs, and not allowed at general public events.

“Marijuana smoking is a social activity, and we need a place to do it,” Stroup said. “We shouldn’t fight for the right to smoke in existing bars, we need our own places.”

I’m all for vapor lounges, cannabis cafés, coffee shops, whatever we want to call a public facility where only marijuana consumption is happening. But our choice of places to toke shouldn’t be limited to only those kinds of venues. “Separate but equal” is an un-American policy for solving any issue of public accommodations.

If a venue is set up to allow alcohol consumption, then it is prepared to handle adults having fun by altering their consciousness. If a venue is set up to allow tobacco smoking, then it is accommodating a smelly smoke that could be inhaled by others. So if a venue allows drinking and smoking, how is it not the perfect place for adults to alter their consciousness with a smelly smoke?

We are being forced to remain in the green closet because elements of society still hate and fear us. They demand that our existence not be socially acceptable or normalized. If we are content fighting just for cannabis-only public venues, we are tacitly agreeing that we need to be kept separate from polite society.

The bar, tavern, nightclub or lounge is a “public house”, or pub, with a long tradition in America. Our Constitution was written by men who racked up a huge bar tab. We shouldn’t be denied participation in the American tradition of gathering to party just because we picked the safer choice of party favors. We shouldn’t be forced to go sober (or hotbox the car in the parking lot, more likely) because we want to see the great band playing at some outdoor festival or meet new, attractive people at the singles club.

“Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol,” right? Unless someone’s passing a law restricting drinkers to the possession of 72 ounces of booze that may only be used at home, we still have a long way to go to make that line come true.

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