Why is Cannabis Use Not Allowed in Public?

Why is Cannabis Use Not Allowed in Public?

Published on 11/10/21

"Where is it legal to smoke marijuana in the United States?" Unfortunately, the answer isn't as progressive as we'd hope. Across America, it is almost entirely illegal to smoke marijuana in public. You can smoke a cigarette in public and you can drink beer in bars everywhere, so why can't cannabis be consumed publicly? (Even in bars and dispensaries!). Let's take a look at why cannabis laws are so much stricter than tobacco and alcohol laws, what the future of cannabis consumption might be, and what policies are attempting things. 

Cannabis in America

Cannabis has been federally illegal since the 1970 Controlled Substances Act was passed, which slated it as a Schedule I drug. This designation means the federal government deems it to be highly addictive and to have no medical applications. What followed was a 50+ year war on drugs that is finally beginning to see the end of its run. During that time, public opinion was turned against marijuana as was reflected by legal policy nationwide. However, over the last twenty years, cannabis has seen an uptick in public favor. The first state to go against the federal government's cannabis policy was California in 1996 when it legalized medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington became the first states in 2012 to legalize recreational cannabis use for adults 21 years or older. At the time of this article's publication, there are 36 states with legalized medical marijuana and 18 states with legalized recreational, adult-use marijuana. As of 2021, 60% of adult Americans believe marijuana should be medically and recreationally legalized, while another 31 believe it should only be medically legalized. This means that only 9% of adult US citizens believe marijuana should be illegal. 

Cannabis Consumption Restrictions

However, even across states where marijuana is fully legal, there are certain policies restricting things such as amounts and location of use. Each state has a "possession limit," usually around 1-3 ounces at a time. Anything above that is technically illegal. Almost all these states also have similar policies about public use: marijuana cannot be consumed in public (or often even in sight of the public). This includes smoking in any vehicle (regardless of whether you're driving or a passenger) or on any state or nationally owned land (including parks, forests and beaches). This is, of course, more strict than the use of cigarettes (which can largely be consumed anywhere in public outdoors within 10 feet of a building's entrance) and alcohol (which can be consumed at bars or restaurants, on outdoor patios and anywhere on your own property regardless of public sight). The one answer that's the same across the board is this one: "Is being in high in public illegal?" Yes. If you are noticeably high in public, it is illegal, but the same is true for being drunk in public. However, with legalization continuing to spread at faster rates and public opinion quickly turning in favor of cannabis, why are consumption policies still outdated and when will they likely change? 

Cannabis Lounges


Several states currently have policies that allow for certain businesses to apply for on-premise cannabis smoking. These "cannabis lounges" are the bridge between current policies and the traditional bar model for drinking alcohol. These lounges, usually attached to a dispensary, allow customers to smoke at a bar, either bringing their own cannabis or buying from the dispensary. The four states that Colorado, California, Oregon, and Massachusetts. This doesn't mean that you will easily find cannabis lounges in each of these states. In Colorado, for example, you'll only find lounges in Denver and Colorado Springs - all other cities have ordinances against them. These states have allowed municipalities to make the decisions, but most municipalities haven't bought into the concept, yet.

The New York Cannabis Model

There is one other state, however, that has taken the cannabis world by storm with a new public consumption policy. In March 2021, New York became the 15th state to legalize recreational cannabis. So, the question is, "Is it legal to smoke weed in public in New York?" Yes, but only on a state level where smoking cigarettes is allowed. The state's Smoke-Free Air Act prohibits the use of smoking and electronic cigarettes in almost all workspaces and public areas. This includes all restaurants and bars in New York City, areas around hospitals, parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas. The number of places where people can smoke cigarettes is limited, which means that the number of places adults can smoke cannabis is also limited. However, this puts the two on the same level. It calls out that the hypocrisy in allowing cigarettes where cannabis isn't allowed. Both cigarettes and marijuana smoke are not healthy for a lot of people. The argument isn't that people should be able to smoke anywhere, it's that smoking cannabis should not be treated as universally taboo. We are hopeful that New York's policy will pave the way for other states looking to integrate cannabis into the economy and allow for a more pro-cannabis culture. 

Where do you live and what are your local cannabis consumption laws? Are there cannabis lounges? Can you consume edibles or tinctures in public? Give us some insight and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Where's Weed