In the club

Ngaio Bealum is a Sacramento comedian, activist and marijuana expert. Email him questions at

Will California’s anti-smoking laws impede the opportunity for business growth after legalization? My question stems from the idea that there could be Dutch-style coffee shops and smoking lounges, or some such other California incarnation of a social establishment catering to patrons of the green. What are the known legal obstacles for would-be proprietors of a business where marijuana is (openly) consumed on-site?

—The Bulldog

Using deduction, I surmise that you (or perhaps a “friend” of yours) are interested in opening an Amsterdam-style cannabis club. I applaud your sentiments. I myself would love to visit.

As to the legalities of such an establishment, only time will tell. First, we have to legalize pot. Then, we open a coffee shop.

When the first cannabis clubs started appearing in California, they were definitely on the “social club” model. Members could come in, buy cannabis and consume on-site. I think scientists sometimes overlook the social benefits of marijuana. These clubs allowed many people, some of whom are very ill and cut off from families and other support, to find help and fellowship at cannabis clubs.

More than a few clubs, like Berkeley Patients Group and Dennis Peron’s Cannabis Buyers Club (three floors in the heart of downtown San Francisco) would offer patient services and counseling, massage, cooking lessons and all kinds of stuff. When medical-marijuana clubs started to spread toward Los Angeles, they were mostly in the form of retail-only clubs. Some still offered patients services, but nothing like the scale of the NorCal clubs.

During the crackdowns of 2011, virtually every club in California that remained open became a retail-only spot. Most of the cities that regulate medical-cannabis dispensaries have some sort of “no consumption of any kind shall be permitted on the premises” type of deal written into the law.

The biggest obstacle is the specter of drugged driving. Prohibitionists love to argue about the “millions of drivers stoned out of their minds” the legalization would create. They conveniently ignore the studies that show states with medical-marijuana laws to have lower rates of traffic fatalities than other states.

There’s also this thing called a “dram shop law,” which holds bar owners (and homeowners and party throwers) responsible for damages caused by people that leave their establishment impaired. Since it is often hard to tell how stoned someone is, or how hard that weed-infused edible is gonna affect them, you could be exposing yourself (snicker) to a lawsuit.

You may want to think about opening a private club. Everyone has to pay a small fee to be a member, and within the club, members are free to enjoy their weed of choice. Since the club isn’t open to the public, you may find more leeway. Good luck.