Few Bendites would be shocked to discover public indulgence in marijuana is more prevalent since voters legalized the plant in November 2014.
But public consumption is still illegal, although a bill in the Oregon Legislature, if passed, would permit marijuana consumption at special events and in licensed lounges.
Senate Bill 307 would create a cannabis lounge license for clubs where patrons may consume marijuana, with restrictions.
The same bill would create a license for temporary events at which marijuana may be consumed. Marijuana business owners in Bend said they see an opportunity if the bill passes.
“I think it would be very popular here in Bend, very popular,” said Andrew Anderson, co-founder with his wife, Jocelyn Anderson, of Plantae Health, a marijuana retailer. “Even if the state passes it, cities can make their own rules, and Bend’s been pretty inviting (to cannabis businesses) and on the cutting edge.”
Measure 91, approved by Oregon voters in November 2014, legalized adult use of recreational marijuana but banned public consumption. Cannabis clubs popped up in Portland but were outlawed in 2016 after state lawmakers expanded the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act to include smoking marijuana. SB 307 would exempt marijuana use from the act, which, for opponents of the bill, is a step backward for public health.
“SB 307 would put people in Oregon at risk by creating exemptions to the (Indoor Clean Air Act),” wrote Dr. Katrina Hedberg, state epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority in comments to the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation, “and would expose workers and patrons to the risks of secondhand marijuana smoke.”
The bill, if passed, would require cannabis lounges to operate under most of the constraints that govern other marijuana businesses licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. They could not locate, for example, within 1,000 feet of a school. A lounge could not sell marijuana or allow use of tobacco or alcohol, or allow gambling or video lottery games. Lounges would have to install ventilation systems to remove smoke and vapors, according to the bill.
The temporary event section of SB 307 imposes similar requirements. Another bill, SB 308, would create a task force to study social consumption and submit a report by September 2018.
SB 307 is still in the “information-gathering stage” in the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation, said Adam Crawford, analyst with the Legislative Policy and Research Office. The next step for SB 307 would be a committee work session.
Marijuana advocates and business owners say that without the legal right to socially partake of cannabis, apartment dwellers, tourists, parents of minor children and medical marijuana users, among others, end up smoking pot in their cars, along streets or in public parks.
Opponents of SB 307 include public health officials from the Oregon Health Authority and Clackamas County and organizations such as the Children’s Health and Marijuana Coalition. They say no ventilation system can totally alleviate the dangers of secondhand smoke, that social use normalizes marijuana in the eyes of the young and that social consumption of marijuana increases the costs of health care, enforcement and public safety.
Hedberg, who also testified Tuesday at a public hearing on the bill in Salem, cited a “clear causal link” between tobacco advertising and tobacco use among children, an indication of the impact marijuana promotion may have.
Oregon, she said, was at the forefront in 2001 when it passed the clean air act, “a major public health accomplishment.” Carving out an exemption for marijuana, like those for smoke shops or cigar bars, creates a major concern for public health, she said.
Cannabis advocates point out that not all marijuana is smoked. Vape pens, which vaporize cannabis concentrates for inhalation, are another method, as well as edible forms. At the hearing, medical marijuana users said cannabis lounges would provide them a place to use the drug in a setting free of stigma.
Oregon is not alone in wrestling with social consumption. It’s outlawed in Colorado, too, but voters in Denver approved an initiative in November that allows cannabis lounges in the city.
Dan Rowland, spokesman for the Denver city business licensing department, said city staffers are writing a law for public review and eventual adoption. He said the ballot initiative aimed at creating cannabis lounges passed by 53 percent of the vote, a narrow margin in Denver.
“In Denver, we’ve never voted down anything that relaxes laws around marijuana,” he said Thursday. “That was a little closer than we normally are here. That shows you the level of concern and trepidation around this.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7815, firstname.lastname@example.org