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When Will the Public Consumption of Cannabis Be Legal?

February 22, 2018
When Will the Public Consumption of Cannabis Be Legal?(InnerVisionPRO/iStock)
Despite the fact that over half of the United States has legal access to some form of cannabis, publicly consuming it is illegal. Medical marijuana patients should be able to consume their medicine whenever and wherever pain might strike. Recreational marijuana consumers should have a public space to enjoy their products. Yet, getting caught consuming cannabis anywhere other than the darkest depths of your bedroom could have repercussions ranging from small fines to years in jail time.

The main problem with these laws is that although cannabis has been legalized, consumers are identified and isolated as wrongdoers. The laws indicate, “Okay fine, you can do this, but we better not see it or you’re in trouble, pal.” This not only encourages a reclusive lifestyle for cannabis consumers by essentially excluding them from the community, it also creates a double standard in relation to substances like tobacco and alcohol, which have been scientifically proven to be more harmful than cannabis.

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A Double Standard: Tobacco and Alcohol in Public vs. Cannabis

Look at the laws surrounding the purchase and consumption of tobacco. You only have to be 18 years old to purchase a pack of cigarettes from the local 7-Eleven, and then you can walk outside and chain-smoke every single one of them without an issue. In fact, there are still some restaurants and venues that will allow you to smoke/consume tobacco inside of them. Just a week ago I went to pick up an order from Chili’s, and there were five people at the bar puffing on cigarettes and blowing smoke in my face like life is beautiful.

“Bringing in someone else’s product into your business locale may be a problem if it’s not tethered to already existing marijuana entities.”
Carlos Blumberg, Las Vegas attorney

Now look at the laws surrounding the purchase and consumption of alcohol. You have to be at least 21 years old to purchase it, and there is a plethora of public spaces for you to legally consume it. There are bars, clubs, food pods, restaurants, sporting events, tailgate parties, entire beer festivals, and in some US cities you can even pop a top and walk down the sidewalk with a can or bottle of your favorite beer, liquor, or wine.

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It’s time for cannabis consumers to be afforded these same luxuries. Denver’s trying. Massachusetts is trying. Still, it may be quite some before that fantasy becomes reality.

Legally, What Will It Take?

To gain insight on the issue, and potential changes in the future, I spoke with Carlos Blumberg of De Castroverde Law Group, a law firm in Las Vegas, where it’s completely legal to walk up and down the Vegas strip while smashing out an entire 30-pack.

Leafly: Why do you think it’s legal to drink publicly in Vegas, but not smoke publicly, even though cannabis has been legalized there?

Carlos Blumberg: I think, honestly, it’s that cannabis is a lot newer than alcohol and tobacco. It’s a new industry and it’s been around less. So I think that’s the difference in the way it’s being treated with respect to alcohol and tobacco. I mean, cannabis has only been legal for less than six months.

So you speak about cannabis lounges: is that something that has been discussed or you see coming about in the near future?

Blumberg: Oh yeah, absolutely. It was discussed on the Las Vegas city council and on the Clark County Commission. Nothing has been decided, but they’re beginning to discuss it. It was an agenda item and they’re going to discuss it early next year again. So it’s something that’s on the government’s radar, but no decision has been made.

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What obstacles do you see surrounding the existence of cannabis lounges that may keep them from being approved?

Blumberg: I think, just off the top of my head as an attorney, that there may be liability issues. For example, bringing in someone else’s product into your business locale may be a problem if it’s not tethered to already existing marijuana entities.

Do you ever see a day where people of Vegas will be able to light a joint and walk down the street while smoking?

Blumberg: I think the day will come, yeah, if it changes on a federal level, absolutely.

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So will the public consumption of cannabis ever be legal? What my conversation with Blumberg tells me is yes, in a matter of time it will be. But there are still hurdles for the issue to jump over. For the existence of cannabis lounges to come into fruition, they will most likely need to be tethered to already existing cannabis entities in a way that verifies the products being sold within them are regulated the same way as the products sold within dispensaries.

In addition to lounges, if you’re wanting to be able to smoke a joint on the patio of your favorite brunch spot, light up when attending cannabis festivals, or if you simply want to light a joint and go for a walk around the city without having to turn over your shoulder every few seconds to make sure you aren’t seen by law enforcement, you’ll most likely have to wait until cannabis is legal on a federal level. So for now, as we have been since Day 1, we’ll just have to sit and wait for the government to get its act together.

Dante Jordan's Bio Image

Dante Jordan

Dante Jordan is an Associate Subject Matter Expert for Leafly, where he specializes in informational and lifestyle content pertaining to cannabis strains and products. He also manages the Leafly strain database.

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  • Sitkajo

    I routinely pack a bowl, put it in my pocket, and walk the trails near my house, puffing as I go. These trails are on US public lands (ie National Forest and National Park).
    Obviously I might have an issue with Jeff Sessions as Atty Gen. On the other hand, he nor anyone else, are within miles of my preferred trails.

    • Scooter Bell

      Same, I use a vaporizer instead. It’s a lot of fun to do, and the scenery also adds more to it than just sitting. Happy trails!

  • Brad Branan

    Why does Leafly publish stories everyday that state no place has smoking lounges? There are eight permitted lounges in San Francisco. Two in Oakland. One in South Lake Tahoe. They are fully legal. The underlying issue remains important – where can people consume? But so is getting the facts straight.

    • Debby Goldsberry

      I agree! CA law allows consumption lounges, and the dispensary I manage, Magnolia Wellness of Oakland, is fully licensed for a dab bar, vape lounge, and cannabis cafe. We have a small vaporizing area set up right now, and are building out a big cafe/bar now. So exciting! Come take a sample!!

      • 360dunk

        Since vaping doesn’t leave the same smell as burning a joint, is it safe to assume your dispensary doesn’t allow the latter?

        Not that it matters to me since I don’t drive baked, but maybe other Bay Area visitors need a safe haven to light up. Personally, I find it simpler to wait till the end of the day and take a few puffs on an evening stroll near the hotel property.

        • Debby Goldsberry

          Yes, our permit allows vaping, dabbing, edibles, and topicals. Oakland law allows smoking on an outdoor patio, but it requires that no smell leave the grounds. Once we figure that part out, we are on it! (it’s gonna be tricky)

      • alacrity

        Hi Debbie- I’m a member of Magnolia, and your facility is indeed a benchmark for us here in the East Bay. Thanks for all you do there!

        • Debby Goldsberry

          Thank you!! Very appreciated. (and, I am a huge fan of dropping the word alacrity into any conversation. Really great word!!)

          • alacrity

            Lol… Few know the meaning of the word, and fewer still can pronounce it…

            Cheers, Debby

    • lovingc

      That is the first I have heard of. The .Vegas and Colorado ones are just being talked about.

    • 360dunk

      Because it’s not just about California….it’s about the U.S.

      Here in Las Vegas, for example, the consumers are often tourists who need a place to smoke since hotels ban it. We provide them places to purchase cannabis but no place to smoke it. Can you see how this might be problematic?

      • JoelGray

        We’re having the same issue up in Washington. The state threw away so much revenue from weed tourism, because these laws were poorly written, and tourists couldn’t be given any reassurance they’d be able to actually smoke while they were here.

  • Pen Dragon

    When the marijuana industry throws as much money at the politicians as the alcohol and tobacco industry do then you will see it become more mainstream.

    • Scooter Bell

      I wish more mainstream organizations would support it, like a pro team. Seeing a weed commercial on a ESPN baseball
      game with the Colorado Rockies or LA Dodgers instead of beer would make me want to see a game( and light up!)

      • C Gosnell

        I am actually surprised marketing ideas such as this have not happened yet.

  • Scooter Bell

    “we’ll just have to sit and wait for the government to get its act together.”
    Thanks for the article, Dante. Our government right now can’t even pass a budget on time, so waiting for them to
    approve weed will take forever, if at all. The “Washington v. Sessions” case is pressing the issue and showing the facts.
    Exciting to see that it might finally be removed as a Schedule 1 drug!

  • 360dunk

    The whole industry is a work in progress. In Las Vegas, they allow visitors to purchase marijuana but give them virtually no place to consume it. If you get caught smoking in public, it’s up to a $600 fine. The good news, though, is that there has been very little enforcement. Police departments are gradually becoming smarter….tourists are what makes this city run so why bite the hand that feeds you? They can focus on protecting tourists, not harassing them. Overall, things are getting better these days.

  • bigblue52

    “we’ll just have to sit and wait for the government to get its act together.” Could’ve skipped everything said before that and gone right to that point. Most of us won’t live that long.

  • Auryan

    Going for public should be on pause until the entire shift of having cannabis legal, in any form, has settled. Just chill dudes!! Yes one day it will be like alcohol consumption at bars, etc. Right now it’s time to be grateful for what has been accomplished in the direction of legality. We don’t even have the driving thing down yet…when are you actually stoned? So go out to a public place and smoke…then what, DRIVE HOME? There are only vague standard on driving high…it’s not like alcohol. So me thinks we have a few clarifications to make before we drive over to the public smoke out house for a few bong hits…and then look for a designated driver. Making it crazy all at once only gives the prohibitionists ammo to shut it all down. Let’s focus on illegal growers shipping out of their legal states…then……

    • JoelGray

      Simple restraint is a great goal for people who use recreationally, who can afford to wait to smoke until it’s legal.

      The issue is that many of us need it every day for management of symptoms. While possessing cannabis is legal if you’re in a rec state or you’ve got a medical card in a medical-only state, it’s often still impossible to consume. Unless you own your own house, it’s impractical or implausible or even downright impossible to medicate legally without jeopardizing your housing situation. Unless you’re willing to toke up on the sidewalk, there’s simply nowhere to go.

      Smoke lounges would be good, but maybe also housing protection legislation that says it’s illegal to prohibit cannabis consumption for tenants in a non-rehabilitative setting. Make residential property owners erect and maintain easily accessible smoking huts if they don’t want smoke inside the building. Or increase the deposit to cover cleaning fees.

  • alacrity

    consuming cannabis in public is perfectly appropriate- provided it’s an edible, topical or even vaporized. It’s when it’s combusted things get out of hand- it’s tantamount to smoking a cigar in public. There are those that find the smell overpowering and distasteful (bein’ polite here) and frankly, it’s kinda rude to inflict that sort of thing on those that don’t enjoy it. What part of “Don’t be a dick” is so hard to live with?

  • Randallpiz

    I know, right? Where I live, they let me walk down the street chugging beers & vodka… Oh wait, that’s right… That’s not really legal, either, huh?

  • Henrik Hansson

    You can only take intense pain for so long before you do anything to escape it. Cannabis makes life so much easier. I prefer using it. Checkout “AnnCannMed” for inquiries and medical purchases