Advice: Smoking in public the right and wrong way  

cannabis advice

GreenState Ombudsman Ngaio Bealum. Photo: Russel Yip

An ombudsman is defined as “a person who investigates and attempts to resolve complaints and problems.” Our Ombudsman is Green State’s advice and etiquette column. It’s written by Ngaio Bealum, who edited the West Coast Cannabis newspaper and is arguably the No. 2 cannabis comedian in America, behind Doug Benson. Bealum is a Sacramento-area father, a go-to host for cannabis events and a veteran world traveler. All of which make him a keen observer of human behavior and a reliable ambassador for grass. In this installment, Bealum tackles the issue of public smoking …

This whole town [of San Francisco] smells like weed. My understanding of the new law is that it makes smoking cannabis in public against the law. What’s going on?! — Holding Breath on the Embarcadero

Yes, technically, consuming cannabis in public is against the law. You could even get a ticket if a law enforcement officer catches you in the act and really wants to give you a hard time. But do you really think police officers want to spend all their time giving tickets to stoners? Cops have better things to do. I mean, would you rather the cops write tickets for getting stoned in a public space, or should they go after the person that smashed your car window and stole your backpack? Besides, the entire Bay Area has smelled like weed since at least 1965. And as far as “odors endemic to urban environments” go, marijuana smells way better that poop or urine or vomit.

Living in a big city always requires overlooking various nuisances. It’s part of a social contract that loosely reads — ‘you will tolerate my pot smoke, and I will tolerate your loud and boisterous sex acts every Friday night/Saturday morning.’

Over in San Francisco, it’s almost always been ‘live and let live’ when it comes to so-called “quality of life” crimes. We had the Barbary Coast, we had the Haight-Ashbury Free Love moment. Every year we host the Folsom Street Faire — which involves public sex acts and flogging (and a little weed). It’s a Freak Kingdom.

All of which is to say, police enforcement around things like public marijuana smoking are the result of community standards and thus, police discretion.

Listen, enforcement around public consumption laws are a function of community values. San Francisco has always been 420 friendly. This is like moving into a neighborhood full of nightclubs and then complaining about the noise. Here are your options: Get over it, or move away. I am sure Bakersfield doesn’t smell like weed. And rent is cheap. Have fun.

I love smoking weed. But it bothers me when I see people doing it in public and potentially messing up cannabis users’ reputations around others who are not yet allies. Lay down some ground rules for public consumption.  — Embarrassed in Oakland

Quit it with the “respectability politics”. People that hate weed are just haters. Even if the streets of Oakland smelled like lavender and cookies (Actual lavender and cookies, not the marijuana strains), there would still be people hating on marijuana. When I was a younger activist, putting a cloud in the air was seen as an act of civil disobedience. Now that weed is legal, haters are trying even harder and harder to harsh my mellow. Until there are as many “cannabis social clubs” as there are bars and nightclubs, the streets are gonna smell like weed.  

I get that cannabis smoke is stinky. So is a cheese shop or a Cinnabon. Or an alleyway.  Cities are full of smells and odors. Suck. It. Up. Unlike tobacco, weed smoke will not kill you.

That being said, pot smokers could maybe be a little more polite. Some folks might think that new joint of Birthday Cake smells divine, but for some people, even the mere whiff of cannabis smoke starts to give them a migraine. So be aware of which way the wind is blowing when you are standing at the bus stop. Maybe even stand around the corner from the bus stop so you don’t bother anyone. Do your best not to expose babies or children to secondhand smoke. And that’s about it. It is damn near mandatory to blaze one in the parking lot before an IMAX movie (What weed would go best with a Black Panther screening? Asking for a friend. It’s me. I am the friend) and I don’t know how to enjoy a beach sunset without a doobie anymore. I mean, I do, but weed is the umami flavor of life, so it just kicks the sunset up a notch.

But you have to be courteous.

Situational awareness is key. If you live in a multi-unit apartment with shared walls, hallways and ventilation, take steps to minimize your stinkiness. The classic “dryer sheet in a paper towel tube” works wonders, use air scrubbers, or switch to vaping and edibles. Hell hath no fury like an irate neighbor, and if they complain to the landlord, you could be out a place to live.

Yes, we won and weed is legal, but there is no need to be a sore winner. Be polite and discreet and have a nice jay.