In a move reminiscent of Amsterdam's "coffeeshops,"
San Francisco and West Hollywood are preparing rules to regulate on-site
recreational pot consumption at dispensaries.
San Francisco, in fact, already allows on-site recreational
cannabis consumption at six consumption lounges as well as at two outlets for
medical consumption. Nicole Elliott, director of San Francisco's Office of
Cannabis, said the city's public health department is also preparing
regulations covering future applications for on-site cannabis use.
"The city, in many issues, has been on the leading edge
of progressive politics, and this is no exception," Elliott said.
Meanwhile, West Hollywood in May will start accepting
applications from those looking to open their own consumption lounges. The
city, adjacent to Los Angeles, will grant 16 permits: eight that will allow for
smoking and eight that will restrict use to vaping and edibles.
Jackie Rocco, West Hollywood's business development manager,
said those permits could be granted as soon as early next year. She added that
the city, which has housed medical marijuana dispensaries for more than 15
years, now has four outlets that legally sell recreational pot.
"Cannabis is not new to our city," Rocco said. "Bars
are spaces where people can safely consume alcohol. We see this the same way."
California on Jan. 1 became the most populous of nine states
where the recreational use of marijuana is now legal, but the state has the
distinction of being the only one allowing recreational consumption outside of
The state's pot statutes allow local governments to grant
on-site, recreational cannabis consumption permits as long as the area's access
is restricted to people 21 or older, the consumption of cannabis is not visible
from a public or non-age-restricted area, and there are no on-site sales of
alcohol or tobacco.
With such parameters in mind, both cities, which have long
been known for their counterculture leanings, are setting themselves up as a
potential tourist draw among people looking to smoke, vape or eat cannabis in
public without the fear of arrest.
Amsterdam's coffeehouses, which sell varieties of marijuana
and pot paraphernalia, have long been a draw for tourists. TripAdvisor, for
example, lists the Amsterdam Coffee Shop Culture and Local Food Sampling
Walking Tour as the city's third most popular cultural outing, trailing only a
red light district walking tour and the Keukenhof Gardens and Tulip Farm in the
nearby town of Lisse.
Already, tourist towns in states where recreational use is
legal have seen a rise in visitors despite not having the benefit of legal
lounges or other public pot venues. That is especially true in Colorado.
"We were getting requests as soon as the law changed,"
Brian Harris of Brian Harris Travel in Aspen, Colo., said of the state's 2012
legalization of recreational cannabis. "It's a whole new industry that's
been very well received."
Nonetheless, questions about the viability of pot tourism
linger, since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, meaning its use
is still prosecutable. So far, that has merely meant that cannabis possession
is illegal in places like airports and national parks.
But the impact of federal laws could grow substantially in
the coming months because U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions removed an
Obama-era policy that had allowed states to determine the legality of the drug
within their own jurisdictions. He gave federal prosecutors free rein to
prosecute growers and sellers as they see fit.
Another potential speed bump is that as a result of standing
federal laws, banks refuse do business with cannabis retailers, meaning pot
sellers cannot accept credit cards and are thus cash-only businesses.
California governor Jerry Brown has indicated that he favors establishing a "state
bank" that would work with California's rapidly growing cannabis industry,
enabling credit card purchases.
Nonetheless, San Francisco is pushing forward to add to its
eight lounges. While San Francisco Tourism spokeswoman Laurie Armstrong Gossy
said she didn't believe consumption lounges would boost tourism, Elliott
disagreed, saying they may be a draw for people from less cannabis-friendly
states looking for a place to smoke socially.