Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

Cannabis Cafés in Colorado?


The Denver Post worries that Colorado's Amendment 64, approved by voters last month, will be interpreted to allow Dutch-style "pot taverns." The editorial was provoked by a Post report that quoted comments by Rob Corry, a lawyer and activist, at a recent forum on implementation of the initiative:

Because the measure prohibits marijuana use only that is done "openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others," Corry said private businesses will be able to allow marijuana smoking on site.

"You can have an Amsterdam-style private coffee shop," Corry said at Tuesday's forum.

The Post editorial objects that the Yes on 64 campaign did not play up that prospect and that the initiative talks about "retail marijuana stores," not cannabis cafés. "It nowhere uses any term implying that consumption of marijuana on the premises of an establishment might be allowed—as, for example, the words 'bar' and 'tavern' imply regarding alcohol," the Post says. True, but unlike Washington's Initiative 502, Amendment 64 does not explicitly prohibit on-site consumption either. And while someone smoking pot at a table on a patio or next to a window (not an unusual sight in Amsterdam) might run afoul of the ban on "openly and publicly" consuming marijuana, someone invisible from the street might not, especially if he pays a membership fee for the privilege. "That is a possibility," Yes on 64 co-director Brian Vicente told me right after the election, adding: "We don't think the Department of Revenue [which is charged with regulating pot shops] initially will head down the road of allowing consumption in private clubs. Really this was drafted to allow retail stores and allow individuals to use marijuana privately in their homes."

Even if the law can be interpreted to allow cannabis clubs, the Post says, letting people smoke pot in such a social setting would be needlessly provocative:

As everyone knows, the big unknown in the future of the amendment is the attitude of the Justice Department —and the main hurdle in that regard is of course the amendment's vision of cultivation and retail facilities.

We're on record as urging the Justice Department to show restraint and allow Colorado to proceed with implementing the amendment over the coming year.

But we also believe it would be both foolish and reckless to give the department yet one more excuse for intervention by talking about possible consumption in coffee houses—particularly when no such scenario was suggested by advocates of the amendment during the recent campaign.

Perhaps a few marijuana activists have forgotten what actually happened on Nov. 6. They won, and they should concentrate on preserving their victory, not jeopardizing it with reckless talk of public consumption.

Unlike the Post's editors, I view "pot taverns" as a positive development, not just because consumers want them but because they help create a culture of responsible, socially integrated use. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see whether Colorado's relatively liberal approach to legalization—which, as Corry noted, includes home cultivation and noncommercial distribution as well as the possibility of cannabis cafés—does in fact generate more complaints and invite more federal interference than Washington's relatively buttoned-down system. These differences will help inform the unfolding debate about the risks and benefits of experimenting with pharmacological freedom.  

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]