(Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Opinion: Talking ’bout our rights and the sweet smell of freedom

When it comes to our fundamental rights, I can’t imagine anything more American than plumes of legal cannabis rising from backyards like so many Fourth of July barbecues.

When it comes to the rights guaranteed to us as U.S. citizens, cannabis consumers have been getting the short end of the Thai stick for decades. It’s a sore subject for most users, considering there was a marijuana-related arrest every 42 seconds in 2012, the same year that voters in Colorado and Washington approved recreational marijuana.

So excuse me if I sound dismissive regarding an anonymous woman in Washington state who feels she’s being smoked out of her own backyard.

Or, to put it another way: Boo hoo.


Read the story that inspired this commentary — Anonymous: “Your pot smoke violates my rights as an American citizen”


If her neighbors were stoking the flames of a “Simpsons”-esque tire fire, I’d be more sympathetic. Using your rights to infringe on the rights of others is not cool, bros. There’s no “smoking gun” that indicates this is the case, however. But even if there was substantial evidence of outdoor secondhand marijuana smoke posing a serious health risk to someone, what makes that unique to ganja?

Cigar smoke is one of my least favorite smells and is chock full of carcinogens. That doesn’t mean there should be a campaign to ban it in my backyard.

If her job was threatened by a positive drug test at work due to the billowing blunts next door, I’d be more sympathetic. According to a study review cataloged by the National Institutes of Health, this simply isn’t the case. Researchers found that “passive inhalation does not have a major effect … and should not affect drug test results in the workplace.” Her position as head of killing buzzes is safe.


Neighborhood disputes: Weed issues sprout up for HOAs as neighbors clash over smells, growing


The risk of her achieving intoxication — Heaven forbid — isn’t even likely according to the British Journal of Anesthesia, which found that 50 percent of cannabinoids go straight into a user’s bloodstream. Virtually all of them if the smoke is held for several seconds. She’d be better off kindly asking her neighbors to take a deep breath on their next bong rip if getting a contact high was a concern.

But it’s not. The only concern she seems to have is about the marijuana smell.

As someone who has enjoyed marijuana for years, trust me: We don’t always like the odor, either. Especially when we’re around law enforcement. In my experience, the nice thing about the aroma of cannabis is that it dissipates rather quickly. I’d let anyone spark up a joint in my living room. Do the same with a cigarette and you’ll get the stink eye.


Trying to get along: Neighbors and pot conflicts — ways to clear the air


The woman’s main — if only — argument is that “I can sit out here on my back deck and have a beer, and nobody knows the difference. You can smell the difference with pot.” Sure, if you’re drinking alone this is a very valid (and sad) point. The noise pollution that comes with a few six packs and rowdy neighbors is something you’ll rarely hear as people mellow out over a bowl, though. I know I’d rather live next to the latter.

Perhaps she would be well-served in walking a mile in her next-door nemeses’ shoes. Are they parents who worry that if you saw them smoking indoors, child services would be on their doorstep within minutes? Are they renters who worry that a pop-in from the landlord could mean an eviction? Or are they simply people who want to enjoy their own private property in the same way that she does?

When it comes to rights, our fundamental rights, I can’t imagine anything more American than plumes of legal cannabis rising from backyards like so many Fourth of July barbecues. Tax-paying adults, allowed to choose what goes into their bodies, enjoying a substance older than this country itself.

Then again, she has a legitimate gripe if they demand to be quartered like British soldiers. I hear these stoners can really do damage to a pantry.