Here Come the Cannabis Cafés

Four states open the door to on-site consumption in pot shops, while Denver will let people bring their own marijuana to use in specially licensed businesses.


Bulldog Coffeeshop

As four more states legalized marijuana this week, Denver voters took the considerably less dramatic step of authorizing a pilot program that will allow cannabis consumption in specially licensed businesses. Under Initiative 300, which was favored by 54 percent of voters on Tuesday, a business that wants to let customers bring their own marijuana and enjoy it on the premises can establish a "designated consumption area" with the consent of "an eligible neighborhood organization" and a permit from the city. That may sound boring, but it addresses a problem that has bedeviled Colorado residents and visitors from other states since legal recreational sales began in 2014: Where are they allowed to consume the cannabis they are now allowed to buy?

So far Denver's answer has been that marijuana use is allowed in private residences but not in private businesses, a policy that pushes cannabis consumers into the streets and parks. But marijuana use is not allowed there either, which helps explain why tickets for public consumption have sextupled in Denver since legalization. That is not a tenable situation for a drug that is supposed to be "regulated in a manner similar to alcohol," which people are free to consume in a wide variety of settings outside their homes.

The four marijuana legalization initiatives that passed this week address the consumption question in a couple of different ways. Three make provision for more discreet versions of Amsterdam's famous (but technically illegal) cannabis cafés, while the fourth passes the issue to the state legislature.

The Massachusetts initiative, Measure 4, allows consumption of cannabis products on the premises of businesses that sell them, subject to regulation by the state and approval by local voters. California's initiative, Proposition 64, likewise says "a local jurisdiction may allow for the smoking, vaporizing, and ingesting of marijuana or marijuana products on the premises of a [cannabis] retailer." In addition to regular marijuana stores, where consumption will not be allowed, Maine's Question 1 allows "retail marijuana social clubs" to sell cannabis products specifically for on-site consumption.

Nevada's Question 2 is more tentative. It makes consuming cannabis in a marijuana store, "a public place," or a moving vehicle a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $600. The initiative defines "a public place" as "an area to which the public is invited or in which the public is permitted regardless of age," which leaves the door open to age-restricted establishments (other than marijuana stores) that could allow cannabis consumption on their premises. Question 2 also says "the legislature may amend provisions of this act to provide for the conditions in which a locality may permit consumption of marijuana in a retail marijuana store."

Reason TV covers Colorado's cannabis consumption conundrum:

Addendum: This post has been updated with the final election results.