When Will the Public Consumption of Cannabis Be Legal?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.