Cannabis legalization and decriminalization have highlighted a number of legal inconsistencies, one of which could best be summed up as: OK…where can I actually smoke the stuff?

Restrictions on where you can actually consume cannabis, even in ‘legal’ states, may extend to most public places, most large hotels, and even – depending on your landlord – your own home.

Contrast this with the availability of alcohol, and the absurdity of the situation becomes clear. Imagine if you were banned from drinking alcohol not only on the street but in nightclubs, the privacy of a hotel room – or even your living room. And also, imagine that bars were illegal. It’s Prohibition-era stuff, as this farcical story from DC makes clear.

But a brighter, more comfortable way to consume cannabis is possible. Check out the Barbary Coast Dispensary’s hash bar and combustibles lounge: a sophisticated and stylish setting in which to relax with a dab or a smoke.

The San Francisco dispensary above opened last year, to serve the patients visiting the dispensary for medical reasons. But when legalization took effect in California, the state left it open to cities to legislate and regulate on cannabis lounges for recreational use. Why is this sensible and lucrative idea taking so long to come to fruition?

In most North American cities benefiting from legalization or decriminalization, when the subject of cannabis lounges comes up, the response from politicians and the police seems…nervous.

For example, when Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau stated that it is already legal for businesses to allow cannabis consumption on the premises (as long as they don’t also sell it), Governor Brian Sandoval told the Las Vegas Review-Journal “I think it’s way too early to be doing something like that…I think it’s important that we continue to see how the sale of recreational marijuana evolves.”

Why such caution from our elected representatives? The clue is in the word ‘elected’. As ever, the one thing a politician is really scared of is public opinion. Take another look at that DC story above. Why did the police – who surely have enough to do – raid the cute little pop-up marijuana markets?

At the outset, some vendors say, police and the ABRA seemed to tolerate the pop-up markets without intervention. But recently, the number of such markets has mushroomed, complaints from neighbours and anonymous tipsters have risen, and the authorities were obliged to get involved.

‘Complaints from neighbours’ are three words guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any local politician.

This Toronto city council report tells a similar story. The city produced this paper way back in 2012, when ‘vapor lounges’ began springing up to cater to users of medical marijuana (and, in practice, to illegal recreational users too). The account it gives of these lounges is overwhelmingly positive, with the only arguments against being local residents’ somewhat hazy concerns about ‘nuisance’.

Of course, it’s right that local politicians should represent the concerns of their residents; and it’s understandable that progress towards consumption of recreational cannabis on the same footing as alcohol might have to be incremental. But the longer we’re denied cannabis lounges, the longer we’re missing out on the benefits they could bring, not only to stoners but to the whole community.

Licensing premises to sell marijuana for consumption on-site would eliminate the demand for shady ‘grey market’ sales, and bring much-needed tax revenue into American cities. And the positive impact on the local economy wouldn’t stop there: the safer, more comfortable and enjoyable a city can make the recreational cannabis experience, the more they can make from tourism. Meanwhile, the city will also save valuable dollars in the police budget by not expending unnecessary resources on raids and investigations.

The future looks bright for cannabis lounges in California and Nevada. It’s surely only a matter of time before more weed-friendly states follow suit.

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