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National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

This past Friday, Denver NORML announced a new effort to enact a municipal voter initiative this year in Denver to legalize the social use of marijuana in certain venues within the city. The initiative will be known as “Responsible Use Denver,” and will seek to legalize private marijuana clubs for those 21 and up, as well as protect businesses that permit responsible adult marijuana use.

There are a number of important fixes needed to the initial legalization laws, but none impact more smokers than the current ban on marijuana smoking outside a private home.

Alaska officials are discussing the possibility of allowing marijuana smoking at some licensed marijuana retailers, and the DC City Council recently approved private marijuana clubs, and then reversed themselves in a second vote a few minutes later. So far, none of the legalization jurisdictions permit smoking outside a private home.

During 2015, an effort to license certain bars in Denver, CO, to permit marijuana smoking in areas where tobacco smoking is permitted, was circulated as a municipal voter initiative, before being withdrawn by the sponsors only a day before it was to be certified for the ballot. No public explanation was ever provided for the strange turn of events.

Denver NORML said their goal is to pick up where others left off in 2015. “We greatly appreciate the previous attempt to bring this issue to Denver voters, but we want to get this done,” said Jordan Person, executive director of Denver NORML.

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Marijuana smoking is a social activity, and there is absolutely no valid reason to deny marijuana smokers the right to congregate and enjoy their favorite herb in a social setting. We should not be limited only to smoking in our homes.

In Colorado, a state which counts tourism as among its major industries, the level of tourism since marijuana was legalized has continued to grow, and 49% of those tourists say the right to smoke marijuana legally was one of the reasons they chose to travel to Colorado on vacation. Yet, the large majority of those marijuana tourists (with the exception of a small number who manage to stay at a marijuana friendly hotel or bed and breakfast), have no legal place to smoke the marijuana they legally buy.

That is a situation that cannot continue, and cries out for some common sense relief. Marijuana smokers need places they can congregate socially where, if they wish, they can also smoke marijuana. Either we legalize and regulate those smoking venues, or black-market “smokeasies” will continue to surface.

“NORML wants to bring Denver closer to the goal of treating marijuana like alcohol, as the voters overwhelmingly approved when Amendment 64 was passed in 2012,” Person said.

These could be Amsterdam-style coffee shops, where marijuana and food is available, but no alcohol; they could be smoking areas in existing bars that do sell alcohol; or they could be private clubs, where members pay a modest fee to enter. It would be instructive if different jurisdictions tried different models, providing us some guidance as we move forward.

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And NORML is the right organization to push for this change. We represent the interests of marijuana smokers, and it is our obligation to bring the marijuana smoking culture above ground, and out of the closet; and nothing will accomplish that goal more effectively than the establishment of legal marijuana smoking areas in states that have legalized marijuana.

“We are coming from the perspective of the consumer and not as industry business owners or representatives,” Person said, “but of course we will work with a broad-based coalition of consumers, industry groups and business to gather the needed signatures and to ensure passage.”

It’s time we consumers get-up, stand-up, light-up and demand this right; we should not permit the prohibitionists to limit our smoking only to private homes.

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