America needs marijuana bars




For building a national pub culture, pot is better than alcohol

September 29, 2014 6:00AM ET

by Malcolm Harris @BigMeanInternet

Blogger-pundit Matt Yglesias really wants more bars. First at Think Progress, then at Slate and now at Vox, the commentator has waged a one-man rhetorical war on the country’s urban liquor boards. The current licensing system, in which the number of bars is constrained by city bureaucrats rather than market demand, Yglesias has argued, leaves us with a paucity of public drinking spots where they’re wanted. From New York’s East Village to Adams Morgan in Washington, D.C., license limitations have caused bars to become rare, expensive, crowded and all around worse.

There’s just one problem with Yglesias’ more-bars plan: alcohol. America has a serious issue with responsible drinking, and increasing the number of sales locations probably won’t help. Alcohol abuse already kills tens of thousands of Americans annually and costs hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, health care and property damage. It’s an especially big problem for college students and other young people; Jake New reported for Insider Higher Education that at least eight college freshman died in the first few weeks of school this year, most in alcohol-related accidents or overdoses. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a fairly dramatic increase of alcohol-related hospitalizations in this age group,” George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health, told New. More bars would contribute to what’s already a public health crisis. Studies in Los Angeles and Cleveland suggest adding a bar is associated with about three additional violent crimes a year.

It’s hard to imagine bars without alcohol. Caffeine is popular, but it’s not what economists call a substitute good for booze. Luckily, those aren’t our only options. In a post for Vox, German Lopez suggested that the strongest argument for marijuana legalization might be that people will use it instead of alcohol. Although prohibition has no doubt suppressed use, marijuana’s social costs per user are negligible, especially compared with alcohol’s. A recent National Institutes of Health study suggested that marijuana appears to fit the seven published criteria to be a substitute medication for alcohol, in the same way doctors prescribe methadone for heroin dependence. From a public health perspective, every drink we can replace with a toke is a victory.

Individual states, moved by a combination of hard evidence and shifting public opinion, are advancing with plans to legalize recreational marijuana use. So far, only Colorado and Washington have gone all the way to legalization, but the whole country is headed quickly in that direction. Despite all the new regulatory architectures for growing, distributing and using marijuana without violating the law, no states have been willing to propose what responsible common use in public could look like. Not one Amsterdam-style coffee shop has managed to keep its doors open. Still, there’s a demand for marijuana bars or weed cafes or whatever we end up calling them, a demand that’s being suppressed far more strongly than the demand for more alcohol bars.

Eventually Americans will have public places to go and get high with their friends.

Although federal law schedules marijuana with the worst of the worst drugs — for now, that is — small entrepreneurs have taken the first cautious steps toward establishing common spaces to get high. To do it, they have had to navigate webs of local regulations that were never written to apply to marijuana. In Washington, the Liquor Control Board banned weed from liquor-licensed establishments after a bar named Frankie’s navigated the law and opened an upstairs smoking club. In Colorado a tea shop opened an after-hours marijuana co-op where patrons could take their own and smoke, until the town of Lafayette put the kibosh on use in business locations. One problem with weed bars is employees’ right to a smoke-free workplace; even if cops allowed indoor marijuana smoking, no one would be allowed to work there. The Tacoma, Washington, pizza and rum bar Stonegate tried using vaporizers to get around this issue, but local authorities revoked his business license. Though owners seem willing to conform to whatever guidelines they’re given, so far, no locality wants to be the first to host an American marijuana bar.

This is going to change. As the stigma around recreational marijuana use falls away, I’m confident that government prohibition will attenuate accordingly. Eventually Americans will have public places to go and get high with their friends. And given the way regulation is shaping up, they may be very different, depending on where you live. I think that’s most likely a good thing, since I don’t expect anyone is going to get it just right the first time. It’s going to be a learning process, but we can’t start until government at all levels relaxes a bit and allows the experimenting to proceed.

In his substantial writing on the topic of bars, Yglesias is predominantly concerned with economic growth in the service sector, but there’s an equally strong argument to be made for increasing what’s called parochial space. In his cultural history “Made in America,” sociologist Claude S. Fischer documents the decline in bars, fraternal lodges, social clubs and neighborhood celebrations. Over the course of the 20th century, Americans retreated into their homes, off to the suburbs, broadcast entertainment and the nuclear family. Fewer and fewer people have a third place (not work or home) where everyone knows their name. These spaces promote community integration, friendship and extrafamilial networks of support; it’s in the public interest to have more of them.

Legal marijuana bars would resolve all the problems Yglesias has with current licensing policies and give the U.S. a much-needed injection of parochial space, all without the harms that come with increased drinking. Not to be dramatic, but it’s easy to see how making marijuana available as an alternative intoxicant could save lives. At very least, it’s a socially healthier solution than more alcohol. And even if the author of “I Have Smoked Pot and Don’t Really Care for It” won’t be a frequent visitor, those of us who would rather get high than drunk will decamp and stop overcrowding Yglesias’ neighborhood gastropub. Marijuana bars are an urban-planning win-win, and Americans will get them eventually. For stoners and drinkers alike, the sooner, the better.

Malcolm Harris is an editor at The New Inquiry and a writer based in Brooklyn.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.


Portland’s marijuana festival attempts to go sober: Hempstalk 2014



By Jamie Hale |
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on September 27, 2014 at 7:25 PM, updated September 28, 2014 at 7:09 PM

Marijuana news

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“This is the only place in Portland where there will be no marijuana smoking this weekend,” Paul Stanford said, sitting under a canopy at the opening day of Hempstalk. “That’s what the police require … we have to meet their preconceived misconceptions.”…


Colorado rolling out 30 new tests to regulate marijuana industry



By Katie Kuntz Rocky Mountain PBS I-News – • Updated: September 29, 2014 at 5:37 am • 1

Medical and retail marijuana dispensaries in Colorado will receive about 30 new rules related to almost every aspect of their businesses.

The state Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) released the new rules Thursday. They change such things as the start-up licensing fees, and rules for cultivation, production, edibles, sales, employee training and product testing. Right down to a hand-washing requirement.

2 photos Photo - A worker waves a sign to attract business to the "Canna Med Medical Clinic," a medical marijuana dispensary on Galley Road just east of Circle Thursday, January 26, 2012. Mark Reis, The Gazette + caption

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State officials have contended that Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry is a work in progress, and these new standards underscore that fact.

“I think the new rules make a lot of sense,” said Mark Slaugh, CEO of iComply, a cannabis industry compliance and consulting firm. “We’re putting out consumer education and teaching business owners and workers how to be responsible vendors, from a business decision, it’s a no-brainer.”

Among the new rules is a revision of a proposal that caused an uproar at a hearing earlier this month, production caps on greenhouse or outdoor grows. The proposed rule would have allowed greenhouses to produce only half the amount of plants allowed at indoor or warehouse operations. The new rules do not make that distinction and allow the same number of plants, 3,600, for the first-level cultivation process.

“I think that the state really listened to the greenhouse workers and was responsive to the impassioned testimony,” said Meg Collins, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association, and a member of the work group committee writing the production rules.

The enforcement division also established minimum “responsible vendor training” requirements along with minimum public health and safety requirements for anyone manufacturing edible marijuana products. The state has issued 18,666 marijuana occupational licenses. Each individual with a license will be required to meet new minimum training standards if hired by a shop, cultivation center, testing facility or product manufacturer. There are 496 licensed medical shops and another 242 recreational stores in Colorado. The state has received 177 additional applications for recreational stores and grow operations that could be approved by Oct. 1.

“I believe it’s our responsibility to be as safe as we can be and make sure every bud tender and customer knows what to expect,” said Brian Ruden, a retail and medical marijuana store owner in Denver, Louisville and Colorado Springs. “It’s just better for the industry to err on the side of caution when the whole country is looking at the industry now.”

Aside from safety and health training, new rules will normalize the amount of marijuana found in any edible – ensuring that a single serving size has no more than 10 milligrams of active THC, the intoxicating chemical in marijuana. “So that could be something as small as a peanut butter cup or bonbon or as large as a soda,” said iComply’s Slaugh. “If there is more than one serving in the product, it has to be easily identified.”

The serving size rule is meant to ensure a more safe consumption of edible marijuana. Edibles have a greater risk for over consumption because the digestion of marijuana causes a later onset of the effects. Some people respond by eating more.

Testing requirements have also changed. MED will not only require testing for potency in edibles, but also for chemicals like pesticides and for the presence of fungi.

“I already spend a small fortune every month testing, and that is only going up because of all the other things they are testing,” Ruden said. “I’m excited for more responsible regulation, but frustrated with the expenses, the licensing fees, taxes and testing.”

Others expressed concern with what the new rules don’t include.

Marijuana testing facilities will only test product from licensed cultivation centers, not home growers or medical marijuana caregivers.

“We’re still not able to know how to dose,” said Ashley Weber, medical marijuana patient and caregiver advocate. “From a caregiver’s side, not being able to test means you don’t know what you’re giving your patient and you are never going to be able to be on a consistent level. And for parents with kids with epilepsy, (they) can’t know if they are overmedicating their children (or) when (to) give the medication.”

MED has not yet considered expanding testing services to caregivers.

Others were concerned that the mass of new regulations might mean more costs, and continuing competitions from the black or gray markets.

“The more rules you have the more challenging it is because we are driving up the price,” Slaugh said.

“We can offer a consistent, safe product and a wider variety and you don’t have to deal with a drug dealer – I think legitimate market will always drive away the black market – except for the price.”


The Gazette brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at Contact Katie Kuntz at