Should NZ Allow People To Smoke Cannabis Socially?

On-site consumption

With the 2020 referendum around the corner, New Zealand has a lot to consider in the event its citizens vote for recreational cannabis legalization. One of the pressing issues should be whether or not social smoking should be allowed.

Decades ago, taking a joint in public without stirring the hornet’s nest was unthinkable. Even though the use of marijuana in social settings is still a hot-button issue today, it’s no longer as big a deal as it was in the not too distant past.

The rationale behind the growing support for use in social settings is hinged on the legality of the use of other substances (which are even more toxic to health) in shared spaces, alcohol being chief amongst them.

In areas where recreational cannabis use is legal, businesses cook up the idea of cannabis lounges in licensed dispensaries where consumption can be done openly in a social setting. Under a legislation scheme permitting open use in designated areas, dispensaries are licensed to provide on-site consumption spots after meeting requirements of ventilation, security and discretion.

NORML executive director Erik Altieri believes that such legislation could be of tremendous benefits to local residents, medical marijuana patients, and even tourists who might struggle to find an appropriate space to consume cannabis in a locality. Altieri points out those medical patients in public housing could risk being thrown out for medical cannabis use if such legislation isn’t the case. According to him, this could mean low-income individuals will have less civil-liberties where legal cannabis use is concerned.


Advocates are pushing for the legalization of cannabis use in shared spaces in California, just like it's legal to use other intoxicating substances in social settings. Source

With permits issued to dispensaries for designated areas for cannabis use, anyone above the legal age can stop by at a dispensary, pound a grip of cannabis with friends or colleagues, and then carry on with their day just like people do at a bar with alcohol.

New Zealand might benefit from observing areas around the world where cannabis is legal, to determine whether to implement such a social smoking policy if cannabis becomes legal here. If so, a number of areas should be focused on from a policy stand point.



Plausible policy frameworks for social spaces designated for marijuana use

As with many other aspects of legalization, on-site consumption rules should be left to the discretion of local governments. Each local government can then decide to limit the range of cannabis products that can be consumed on-site in their jurisdiction. They may choose to outlaw smokables, vaping products, or any other type of products, while accepting edibles, for example.

For smokables, they may specify requirements for the designated consumption location, such as mandating the use of only freestanding buildings. Businesses that cannot afford to operate in a standalone building may be allowed to set up consumption locations in outdoor areas, rooftops, a room with a separate vent system, etc.

The requirements for approval for on-site consumption should also touch on ventilation, security, proximity to other shared spaces, in addition to other standards.

Eric Riemer, co-owner of The Stoney Moose retail marijuana shop in Ketchikan, a summer tourist destination in the state of Alaska where on-site consumption is set to become legal, says such standards helps forestall any social issues that might accompany on-site use. He points out a design plan that’s bent on being courteous to others, both locals and visitors -- a design with minimal impact on the neighborhood.

There's also the need to impose limits on the quantity of cannabis or THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) consumed on site.



The positives of legalizing on-site consumption

The legalization of on-site consumption will be a boon for low-income individuals who cannot afford housing options that allow for smoking and vaping of cannabis. Legally designated cannabis use areas will also be highly appreciated by tourists who may lack access to safe and secure areas for smoking cannabis, or knowledge of such areas.


So far, there have been some on-site consumption pilot projects in various legal areas. Source

With well-defined standards in place, there's almost no possibility of negative ramifications attending the opening of designated consumption sites. Overall, the ability to walk into a public space and light up a joint is going to take the cannabis culture to another level.

With well-defined standards in place, there's almost no possibility of negative ramifications attending the opening of designated consumption sites. Overall, the ability to walk into a public space and light up a joint is going to take the cannabis culture to another level.



Final words

The 2020 referendum is just the beginning of the recreational cannabis legalization journey. If legal, the New Zealand government will have to tackle a number of issues for implementation to be as smooth and safe as possible. One of those issues surrounds the question of social cannabis consumption, especially smoking. A certainty here is that cannabis businesses will benefit from such lounge-like, bar-like, cannabis sections. Consumers too, will benefit especially tourists and low-income earners in public housing. In order to make the best decision regarding such social smoking policies, New Zealand will benefit heavily from observing other countries where the question has been addressed (or is being addressed).