A woman holds a joint at a 4/20 Rally in Denver. (John Moore, Getty Images)

Weed etiquette: Emily Post’s great-granddaughter on marijuana manners

The unspoken rules of the “puff, puff, pass” ritual — including all of the steps it takes to toke up — are obvious to those who already partake. But for those just now starting to explore the world of weed, there’s a lot to learn.

Unlike many trends and businesses that are emerging with legal marijuana, it might come as a surprise that etiquette has always been something that has had its place in smoking culture.

Sure, The Cannabist and many other major media outlets have started to revisit the conversation about what modern marijuana looks and feels like since legalization. Cannabis Maven Susan Squibb, a colleague of ours at The Cannabist, pens an informative Ask The Cannabist column that answers questions about everything from brushes with the law to pot and pets.

Just a year into legalized life in Colorado, Cannabist editor Ricardo Baca reflected on the shift he saw in his own social circle celebrating his friend Alissa Joblon’s birthday party in Denver’s tony Cherry Hills Village neighborhood. As he and his fiancée came to a last-minute realization that they needed to bring something to share, they opted for a pre-rolled joint in place of the standard bottle of wine.

The birthday girl-host was thrilled.

“Could that moment have happened in 2013 Colorado, or even 2010? Absolutely,” Baca wrote. “But for Joblon, it didn’t happen until the year Colorado started recreational pot sales.”

Believe it or not, The Emily Post Institute — the definitive source on etiquette in the United States and beyond — was talking about how a host should handle marijuana as early as 1982. The “Party Preparations” section of “The Complete Book of Entertaining from The Emily Post Institute” explained:

Another problem that many hostesses face today is that of the guests who want to smoke marijuana. If the hostess approves of the practice and is untroubled by the fact that it is illegal, of course she has no problem. But if she does not approve and is concerned about people breaking the law in her home, she should say so firmly. The moment she sees the first joint being lighted or passed around she should tell her guests that she’s sorry if she’s being a spoilsport, but she doesn’t want people smoking in her home where she would be held responsible if the illegal use of marijuana were detected. Then rather than letting the group continue to sit and chat, she should get some lively games or activities under way to distract them.

Pretty liberal social etiquette for the early-’80s, no?

And according to Lizzie Post, great-granddaughter of Emily Post, author and spokesperson for The Emily Post Institute, “our society is — and has been — more forgiving about a joint than a cigarette at the table,” Post told The Cannabist.

Lizzie Post
Lizzie Post

Lizzie Post was born and raised in Burlington, Vermont. She’s rooted there still (and a University of Vermont graduate, too), so the subject of cannabis was never as taboo as it was in other parts of the country — and perhaps as a result, she has always categorized pot alongside alcohol.

“Like anything else, don’t assume everybody does it,” she says. “Wine as a hostess gift is just so ingrained in our culture, and the same thing could one day happen with pot. At its core, etiquette is a behavior that affects two people, and smoking pot is obviously something that affects people.”

Now that marijuana is more accepted at formal social occasions, questions are becoming more common on how to integrate cannabis with class. According to a recent study conducted by online legal marketplace Avvo among residents of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington state, 44.6 percent say they’d consider bringing a bag of pot to a dinner party instead of a bottle of wine — and Coloradans are the most open to this idea (with 49 percent in support).

Drinking wine
(John Leyba, Denver Post file)

“Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington in 2014 and additional states implementing medical marijuana laws, the social acceptance of marijuana is gaining momentum,” said Leigh McMillan, Avvo’s vice president of marketing. “With increased entrepreneurial interests, states’ desires for new tax revenues and five more states considering legalization measures on ballots in 2016, that level of mainstream support will likely only continue to grow.”

As it becomes legal in more states, marijuana is something The Emily Post Institute is considering for its Emily Post’s Etiquette 19th Edition. Until then, Post has exclusively shared with The Cannabist these five starter tips for best pot practices at a party:

1. Host/hostess gift: Do you know for sure your host smokes pot? If they do, it’s appropriate to bring as a gift. Remember: Since it’s a gift, your host doesn’t have to smoke it with you, or even that night. A small glass jar or a pre-rolled joint or two makes for a classic presentation. 

2. Know your audience: Is your new boss on the guest list? Is it dinner with your best friends? Whether as a guest or as a host, always be sure to ask permission and where your host would prefer you to smoke, just as you would with a cigarette. 

3. Bring Your Own Stash: Just like with alcohol, unless it’s a gift, feel free to take your pot and glass with you when you leave.

4. Chefs choice: Unlike wine, pot rarely messes up a menu. But never feel obligated to include it as part of the meal — or even the entire evening — if it’s presented. 

5. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: Be respectful of those who don’t smoke. Remember that even if the host is comfortable with it, some other guests might not be as pro-pot, so keep it casual and try not to let smoking turn into the main event for the night. While it may turn out that only a couple of you smoke, your offer should be to all guests at the party. Just the same way you wouldn’t serve wine or dessert to only a couple guests, you should make sure there is enough pot for everyone to join in. Always be inclusive, sneaking off to smoke with just one or two other guests is not appropriate.

“Just because (marijuana) was illegal before, doesn’t mean there wasn’t etiquette and courtesy surrounding it,” says Post. “It’s all very common sense stuff, but it’s definitely something that can divide or bond a group of people.”

JeffThe420Chef, who spoke with us on conditions of anonymity, was dubbed “The Julia Child of Weed” by The Daily Beast for his inventive processes of cooking up infused edibles without a trace of the cannabis’ taste. A sought-after party planner for cannabis-infused events for more than a decade (he won’t share his celebrity client roster either), Jeff was able to transition from a career in marketing to his new full-time career in weed just six weeks ago.

For his infused events, Jeff requests that guests not bring wine or weed, yet he asks them to bring something else that adds another element to the evening — a game, candle or playlist. As a parting gift, Jeff always prepares individually wrapped edibles for the host to hand out.

“Experiencing an infused five-course menu is a very different experience, so people don’t really need to have a glass of wine or even want to smoke. I recommend avoiding both at my events — they take away from the effect,” says Jeff.

Plus, patience is key. A meal like his, with menu items containing cannabis, could take individuals one-to-three hours for guests to feel the plant’s affects, “so drinking and smoking will alter your awareness,” Jeff says.

(John Leyba, Denver Post file)
(John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Another essential element of hosting etiquette when including marijuana as a part of the meal or experience: Making sure your guests are in a good space.

“As a host, always monitor your guests and their reactions. It’s acceptable to privately ask each person how they are feeling every hour or so,” says Jeff. “And always, always, always include it with your invitation, so your guests know what to expect.”

A cannabis culinary adventure aside, food, wine and marijuana go great together for a lot of people. But weed obviously doesn’t work for everyone in social situations, and many smokers are happier staying in. But as marijuana consumption becomes a more regular part of the routine, keep it classy, (insert your city here), and mind your marijuana manners.