Wash., Colo. Bars Test Limits of Legal Pot Laws

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Anyone who wanders up the stairs to the Stonegate’s second-floor smoking lounge is charged a nominal fee — $1 a day to $20 a year — to become a member of the private club. To evade the smoking ban, there’s no smoking allowed — only “vaporizing,” a method that involves heating the marijuana without burning it.

Call provides space in the lounge — an L-shaped bar of blond wood, painted with portraits of Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughn and other rock heroes — to the proprietor of a local medical marijuana dispensary.

People who don’t have a medical authorization have to bring their own pot, then rent a vaporizer — $10 by the half-hour — or pay to have one prepared for them. For $5, those who do have an authorization are offered various preparations of “shatter” — a hardened oil of powerful marijuana extract.

Call opened his rum-and-pizza joint a few years ago in a brick building along a formerly seedy stretch of shops, bars and restaurants. The second floor had recently been operated as a brothel, he said.

On a recent Friday night, a gentle scent of fresh marijuana filled the room. At one table, a handful of 20-somethings inhaled deeply from a rubber hose attached to a rented vaporizer, a black box that toasted the cannabis to 375 degrees.

Those who wanted a more powerful dose grabbed a seat at the bar, where Jenae DeCampo, a 21-year-old in a black tube-top, pulled out a small blowtorch.

DeCampo held the hissing flame to the metal stem of a clear glass bong until the metal glowed orange. With a wand, she picked up a small piece of what looked like amber — a chunk of potent, hardened marijuana oil — and rubbed it on the scorching metal.

A white cloud filled the pipe, bubbled through the water at the bottom and rushed into Connelly’s lungs.

“A lot of people are shocked by what we’re doing because it’s so uncommon,” DeCampo said. “I like being part of something that could possibly be big.”

Tacoma’s code enforcement staff is reviewing the Stonegate’s operation, a city spokeswoman said.

Justin Nordhorn, the state liquor board’s chief of enforcement, has some concerns about bars that allow pot use. Most importantly, he said, is that marijuana can compound alcohol’s intoxicating effects, meaning people might be even more dangerous when driving.

He also doubted whether the “private club” aspect of the establishments would keep them out of trouble. A truly private club that serves alcohol — say, an Elks Lodge — would have to have a liquor license specific to private clubs, and members of the public couldn’t be allowed in.

For now, Nordhorn noted, there is a loophole in the state board’s ability to block bars from allowing pot use. Its rules require bars to address on-site criminal violations, but public use of marijuana is only a civil infraction — meaning officials can’t necessarily punish bars that let people partake, even if police could come in and write tickets to toking customers.

That’s something the board could address as it makes rules for the new pot industry.

For now, Call’s goal is to get more people into the bar — people who will get hungry and order pizzas.

“People are just smiling and friendly and happy,” Call said. “I just really like the feeling you get when you’re up here.”

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