Once only a distant dream of social activists and enthusiasts, the reality of completely legal marijuana in California now appears to be a distinct possibility with the upcoming 2016 election. (Recent polls here and here) If California goes the route of an increasing number of Western states, whose ranks swelled to four with the recent 2014 midterms (adding Alaska and Oregon to Colorado and Washington, who officially legalized in 2013), Californians will be able to legally purchase, grow, possess and consume marijuana without the doctor’s prescription currently required under Proposition 215. Many important questions regarding the specifics of commercial marijuana cultivation and processing have been addressed by the legislatures of those previously enacting states, with more tweaking no doubt in store for California’s bill writers and legislators.
Fortunately for California, Colorado and Washington started their experiments with legalized marijuana markets first. This allows us glean important lessons and determine shortcomings within their regulatory schemes that California can improve upon if it votes to legalize. Specifically, the question of where to consume legal marijuana has dogged citizens and legislators alike in those first two enacting states. This presents an important opportunity for California to make its own mark on the progress of marijuana legalization, or more specifically, to determine the relationship California’s citizens want our state to have with legal marijuana consumption.
With this blog series, I will seek to shine light on the important issues behind that where question. I’ll detail the concept of what I call “retail point of sale consumption” (RPOSC), e.g. the consumption, smoking or otherwise, of cannabis on the site of a commercial venue created to socially enjoy marijuana. What potential forms those commercial entities eventually take is largely dependent upon how California crafts our regulatory schemes for marijuana, and what effects our current state and local anti-smoking ordinances will have on any potential RPOSC businesses; however, we can look to similar business entities (or the lack thereof) in Colorado, Washington (no longer operating as on site consumptions locations), and Amsterdam to gain a feel for what RPOSC could look like in California.
As mentioned, inherent to the where to consume legal marijuana question comes the important discussion of how California’s citizens envision their state’s relationship with marijuana. Do we see it as a “sin” product to be taxed and regulated similar to alcohol and tobacco? Or is there something socially or physically dangerous about marijuana consumption that warrants removal from the social/public sphere to a degree greater than alcohol or tobacco? While my classmates may dig deeper into those particular tax or moral questions, they are salient to addressing the utility versus social cost of allowing marijuana consumption to be brought out of the privacy of the home and into specific use lounges and social establishments.
If Californians decide that RPOSC is a good idea, what forms will it take? California could copy its current commercial marijuana entity, the medical dispensary, and perhaps expand currently existing exemptions for tobacco lounges (under state and local anti-smoking ordinances like AB13 enacted by the CA legislature in 1995) to allow marijuana consumption (via smoking, vaporizing, or eating) on those sites.
Marijuana businesses similar to actual cigar lounges could also be feasible, and do not depart far from currently existing business models. By age restricting access, and maintaining a closed venue with proper ventilation, marijuana enthusiasts could purchase marijuana buds or pre-rolled joints similar to a purchase made at a tobacco or cigar store, and stay to enjoy their purchase.
If Californians desire, they could embrace more commercially advanced forms of RPOSC. Marijuana “lounges” like “The Lazy Lion,” a lounge/social club in Colorado Springs, CO, sell daily or monthly “memberships” to access the private interior of the lounge. Inside, enthusiasts have access to multiple video games systems and TV’s, an expansive selection of bongs and pipes, a DJ, different marijuana strains available for purchase, and a sophisticated concentrate (“dabs”) bar offering “happy hour” prices from four to five every day. Replace the marijuana sales with craft beer, and the above description could very well be about a well-appointed bar currently found in a California urban area where an individual may go to enjoy an alcoholic beverage.
To extend the bar example, the hypothetical California “cannabar”/ “budpub” could sell marijuana that they or those in their local area grew, noting to customers the particular flavors and production process for different strains in a similar manner as the vintner, brewer, or bartender may do for a wine, beer, or spirit. The “craft” model of beer in California and other states has created a lucrative and growing industry of breweries, gastro-pubs, and restaurants that has revitalized formerly undesirable areas in Oakland and San Diego, usually zoned for industrial/commercial uses; why can’t this same model be applied to marijuana production and sales, with a new generation of “bud-pubs” serving the same upscale, organic, locally-sourced food and marijuana from reputable local farmers and marijuana cultivators (or even the business’s personal grow) that current craft beer breweries and pubs tout?
Questions on the forms and functions that businesses offering RPOSC could take are important to answer if and before we legalize, as having a well-planned legalization scheme can benefit the state by providing firm rules for entrepreneurs and investors to rely on if they intend on investing any sums of money into RPOSC and other cannabis related businesses.
Finally, despite our state’s long social history with marijuana, including the aforementioned Prop. 215, California was not in the first group of states to fully legalize. While placing out of the top four is not ideal if looking for Olympic medals, in California’s case, slow and steady could indeed win the race. But how can California win the race when starting years behind? The answer: create business-savvy marijuana laws that provide the greatest benefit to our state and local communities, while identifying and minimizing social costs. If RPOSC is balanced correctly and intelligently, our regulatory model could serve as an example for states and communities around the country to allow the safe, effective and lucrative operation of retail point of sale marijuana consumption businesses.
-Philip Brody for the Drug Law and Policy Blog