Good news for Alaska stoners: The state could soon enact rules allowing legal marijuana customers to consume the drug at the retail stores where they buy it.
The state’s Marijuana Control Board voted in November to recommend that cannabis shops be allowed to designate toking areas where customers may use their marijuana. Last year Alaska became one of four states where cannabis is legal for both medical and personal use.
If the rule is enacted, it would make the state the first to allow cannabis bars. Currently, all four states require that users consume the drug on private property. They have all determined that even members-only smoking clubs qualify as public spaces and are therefore illegal.
Forcing private use encourages irresponsible behaviour
The clubs have nonetheless thrived in both Colorado and Alaska, though they are less common in Oregon and Washington. Marijuana advocates have complained that shuttering them would encourage irresponsible behavior by tokers.
The vote marks a first step. The rule still needs the approval of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a Democrat. Mallott has not indicated whether he intends to sign off, but if he does, the state’s retail marijuana stores would be allowed to set aside outdoor smoking areas for customers.
The current problem, cannabis proponents note, is that rules prohibiting cannabis clubs lead tokers to hide their use in public. Instead of smoking at home, where their use may not be welcome, they drive, smoking in the car. This is especially common among tourists, since the vast majority of mainstream hotels outlaw use on their property.
Doctors and police slow to accept marijuana legalization
Two of the board’s five members voted against the new rule, including the member from the public health sector and the member from the public safety sector. These two groups, doctors and police, have been especially slow in adapting to the reality of marijuana legalization.
Board members opted to delay any further discussion of what the state’s retail cannabis shops should look like until after Mallott approves or rejects their vote. The new regulation would only legalize outdoor toking, as statewide anti-smoking laws would continue to prevent indoor consumption.
Members-only cannabis clubs remain ‘public’ property
Even with the vote, board Director Cynthia Franklin stressed that members-only cannabis clubs remain illegal, and would under the rule. These clubs, which require members bring their own supply, sprang up in the years before voters adopted legalization in 2014. Their owners say private membership means the clubs are private spaces, but the state disagreed.
The vote followed intense public debate over marijuana bars. The board initially voted in August to ban all clubs, but there was a noisy local backlash, and members moved in the opposite direction.
At the time, they said they had little choice since the legalization statute only allows four kinds of business licenses, none of which specifically address on-site consumption. In the end, however, the board decided to treat the rule as part of the retail license rather than requiring a separate category.