Portland, Las Vegas, and San Francisco are getting pot cafes. Why can’t we? Rachelle Abellar
Someday soon, instead of going to a bar to get a little bit (or a lot) buzzed, people will be able to walk into a cannabis cafe, order a pre-roll, light it up, and publicly enjoy some weed.
Not in Washington State, however.
Cannabis cafes, or consumption lounges, are coming to other legal-weed cities and states. Las Vegas is getting consumption lounges, San Francisco already has them, Portland has a members-only club where you can BYOP, and the Colorado Legislature voted last month to legalize weed cafes. But we’re about as likely to get consumption lounges here as Jay Inslee is to win the presidency.
There are a lot of legal barriers for consumption lounges in Washington, and one of the biggest is the state prohibition against smoking within 25 feet of any building entrance, exit, window, or ventilation intake. This law, which voters approved in 2005, means that the only place you can go to smoke tobacco here is the middle of the road—which I don’t recommend. Some bars and hookah lounges skirt the restriction, but any time laws have been proposed to liberalize these rules—in order, for example, to legalize cigar bars—they’ve faced serious opposition from anti-smoking advocates.
I know what you’re thinking: Tobacco smoke and weed smoke aren’t the same thing! And you’re correct about that. While the secondhand effects of weed smoke are relatively unknown, cannabis smoke doesn’t linger the way tobacco smoke does, as anyone who remembers the days before smoking was banned inside (and regularly went home smelling like an ashtray) will attest.
With weed smoke, however, you can light up a joint, open the window, and unless you have a particularly stinky bong around, the smell will dissipate in no time. Still, this is unlikely to change the minds of people who are convinced that any and all smoke is a problem.
There have been attempts to end the prohibition of pot cafes. This year, the state legislature considered a bill that would both legalize consumption lounges and allow cannabis producers to sell directly to consumers. The bill was pitched by weed advocacy groups—and Bailey Hirschburg, a lobbyist for NORML, says that allowing cannabis consumption at public events or in consumption lounges won’t just be good for the cannabis industry, it’s also an equity issue. Under current state law, the only place you can legally smoke is within the home that you own, which disadvantages renters, people of color, those with low incomes, and tourists, who might come here for legal weed and find they have no place to smoke it.
The bill, however, never made it out of committee. It was sponsored by Representative Steve Kirby, who told me in a phone interview that he’s not optimistic it will pass anytime soon. There’s just too much resistance from the anti-smoking lobby and people concerned with impaired driving. This was echoed by Representative Derek Stanford, chair of the Commerce & Gaming Committee, who said that while the anti-smoking lobby will show up when there is any attempt to liberalize current law—as will those concerned about impaired driving—he got only a few e-mails from people who support cannabis consumption lounges. There was so little momentum, they didn’t even have a public hearing.
Still, the bill doesn’t expire for two years. So, stoners, if you dream of someday lighting up—legally—at cannabis lounges in Washington State, call or e-mail your representatives and tell them all about it.