Adults in California 21 and older will soon be able to buy marijuana legally for recreational use. But where will they smoke it?
Under Proposition 64, approved by state voters last year, it will be legal to grow, buy and sell marijuana beginning in January. However, the ballot initiative included strict limits on where that marijuana could be consumed.
Not in public places, such as streets or in parks. Not in a car. Not in any space — such as a bar or office building — where tobacco smoking is already banned. Not on the premises of any business where tobacco or alcohol is sold. Landlords and property owners also can ban smoking in apartments and hotel rooms.
Basically, the only place, other than a private home, where one could legally smoke marijuana would be at a business licensed for on-site consumption, such as a marijuana lounge or an Amsterdam-like cafe. Proposition 64 gave local governments the option to permit or ban that sort of on-site consumption. But so far, many California cities, including Los Angeles, have no proposals to allow for such places.
This page has supported California's strict restrictions on smoking tobacco in public places so that adults who choose to endanger their own health don't inflict harm on others in the process. We've also supported the right of landlords to ban tobacco smoking in their buildings to protect people from secondhand smoke. But tobacco smokers always have the option of going outside to smoke.
It's neither rational nor fair for the state to legalize marijuana and then make it nearly impossible for people to use it without running afoul of the law. Getting caught smoking pot in public can result in fines of up to $250.
The lack of legal places for people to use marijuana puts a particular burden on renters, who may not be allowed by their landlords to smoke cannabis in their homes. That also could have a disproportionate effect on low-income people and people of color. After marijuana was legalized in Colorado, blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to be arrested for using it in public.
If city and state rules make it impossible to find a place to smoke marijuana legally, that also undermines one of the key arguments for Proposition 64, which was that it's ultimately better for public health and safety to bring marijuana out of the shadows and allow it to be used in a legal, regulated and controlled way. But without licensed locations for consumption, there is a big gap in the controlled marketplace.
Marijuana entrepreneurs are a creative bunch, and some have come up with a workaround: members-only marijuana clubs, where people can bring their own weed and smoke it in a private space. They are increasing in number, but they may or may not be legal.
But, again, the goal of Proposition 64 was to legalize and regulate marijuana. It makes sense to set standards for where on-site consumption may occur (for example, away from schools and day care centers,) to establish rules for the responsible operation of such venues and to issue licenses that can be revoked if a business becomes a nuisance.
There's also something a bit hypocritical about permitting and collecting taxes from marijuana growers and sellers, but then refusing to license on-site consumption for fear of encouraging drug use.
There are legitimate concerns about marijuana users driving while high. That is a problem, like the scourge of drunk driving, that needs to be addressed through public education and robust enforcement of DWI laws.
Cities across California are confronting tough decisions about how to manage the legalization of marijuana. Even states with longer experience with legal cannabis, like Colorado, are only now beginning to experiment with allowing what they're calling "social use" of marijuana.
Last year, Denver voters supported a pilot program in which approved businesses could let customers bring their own pot to consume on site. Supporters of the ballot initiative said it was an attempt to treat marijuana more like alcohol — as a legal product that adults should be able to consume responsibly in a more social setting, like a bar.
With the passage of Proposition 64, Californians also said they wanted to treat marijuana more like alcohol. Cities should be open to creating legal spaces for adults to use legal marijuana.