Washington Aims to Stop Toking at Bars, Clubs

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Bars and clubs in Washington State that let patrons smoke up may not be able to get away with it much longer.

Washington State law already bans marijuana use in all public places and, as with tobacco smoke, that includes restaurants, bars and nightclubs. But a few businesses have tried to skirt the law by establishing “private clubs” and using other tricks so customers can light up.Smoke Cloud

Now the Washington Liquor Control Board wants to stop them. On Oct. 30, the board filed a draft rule that would apply a more explicit policy: no pot use on site, period. Board members say they’re concerned patrons could mix alcohol and weed and then hit the road.

The proposed new policy has opponents in the hospitality industry. Frankie Schnarr, owner of Frankie’s Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, said he would fight the rule because it poses a threat to his business. Customers who aren’t allowed to toke will just do it outside, he said, and that’s worse.

Washington was one of two states to legalize recreational cannabis in 2012, the other being Colorado. Both Washington and Colorado are currently establishing the regulatory frameworks for legal pot and selecting the retail businesses that will sell weed.

In both states, public consumption is banned everywhere. The prohibitions closely follow the bans both states have enacted on public tobacco smoking. In both states that includes places of employment such as bars, restaurants and clubs.

In Washington, however, an exception is made for “private clubs” with no employees. Some establishment owners have used this as a loophole, creating clubs within their businesses that allow patrons to light up.
No one has tried to defend the legality of that approach in court, but it’s not likely to remain open as an avenue of argument for long.

How Washington and Colorado deal with issues of public consumption could be important for other states considering legalization of recreational marijuana. Four or more states could vote to legalize by 2016.

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