Public Pot Smoking Stinks

Photo Credit: Kira Horvath

In the good old days, you smoked inside and disguised the skunky smell from your parents with incense. At Red Rocks Amphitheatre you’d take a few hasty puffs before passing the jay cautious of getting caught. I haven’t smoked marijuana in a quarter century but I’m starting to miss the good old days when dope was done on the down low. To put it bluntly, I’m tired of breathing other people’s addiction. I’m not the only one. If users continue to toke outside against the law, a backlash to this budding industry is all but certain.

From a pure public policy perspective, legal weed has produced both benefits and costs to the state of Colorado. On one hand, legalization has opened the door to promising medical research and the cultivation of industrial hemp. The marijuana industry has generated thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. Additionally, state and local governments have reaped millions in fees and taxes.

On the other hand, there’s been an increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths, more emergency room visits for children and pets that ingest marijuana, an increase in use by pregnant women, and a rise in adult consumption in general.

And there’s something not quite right about those tax revenues. Marijuana taxes are regressive much like state lotto and lottery revenues; the poor pay more. Draw a Venn diagram of heavy pot smokers and the upwardly mobile and the circles don’t overlap much. Like lottery and lotto tickets, pot is typically bought by the middle class for special occasions while frequent buyers are those who can least afford to throw their money away on gambling or drugs.

That’s not the only stinky thing about legal marijuana. A portion of users flout the prohibition on public consumption. At the most recent 420 gathering in Civic Center, officers handed out 64 citations for public consumption. Other users were let off the hook with a warning. That’s twice as many public consumption citations as last year. At least revelers didn’t trash the park again.

Why couldn’t they have smoked at home and taken public transportation? Why couldn’t they have popped a couple of kush candies or used a vape pen which doesn’t produce the noxious smoke?

“All smoking is done behind closed doors in New Jersey,” Kenny Dykes, a 20 year old tourist at the event told The Denver Post, “Coming here makes me want to leave New Jersey.” Don’t. The last thing we need is another pothead who thinks it’s okay to smoke outside.

The number of citations for using cannabis in public has increased since legalization. Denver issued 590 public consumption/unlawful public display of marijuana in 2016. There were at least that many potheads openly toking at the last Red Rocks concert I attended. The only people politely standing in the designated smoking area were cigarette smokers. Ganja smokers designated the nonsmoking section for their profuse use. It sucked for the rest of us, literally.

Reefer smoke has 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic substances within it than does tobacco smoke. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found rats exposed to cannabis or tobacco smoke experienced reduced blood vessel function. Those exposed to marijuana smoke took three times longer to recover than rodents that breathed the tobacco smoke. These joint findings explain why we nonsmokers don’t want to inhale.

The solution? Higher fines for public consumption would be a good start. Greater enforcement by police and park or venue managers would curtail the behavior, but pot smokers should police themselves.

The only thing more powerful than a billion dollar industry is the power of NIMBY, Not In My Backyard. Enough people grow tired of being smoked out of their favorite parks and venues or have to close their windows on a cool summer night, and you’ll see support for legalization evaporate like smoke, whatever its benefits to the state. We nonsmokers will want to go back to a pre-legalization past when the grass, from our perspective, was greener.