A group of cannabis supporters wants to make it legal for consumers to smoke marijuana at a lounge, at a one-time event or taste test at a cannabis farm tour, the same way craft beer is consumed.
The concept first must be approved by state lawmakers, who took the first step Thursday with a hearing on Senate Bill 639 in Salem.
A similar measure has been introduced in the House. Social consumption measures have failed in the past, but one of these stands an equal chance of passing, said Sam Chapman, legislative director at New Revenue Coalition, a Portland lobbyist.
Today, cannabis can only be consumed legally in a privately owned home out of public view. Cannabis users cannot smoke in a rental home, a rental car, a sidewalk, a park or have it delivered to a rental unit or hotel, Chapman said.
“It’s an issue of social justice and equality,” said Chapman, whose group supported the legislation before Oregon lawmakers. “When it was legalized in 2014, the law didn’t include any public accommodation. There’s no legal place to consume cannabis for those who don’t own their own home.
“This bill normalizes cannabis for folks.”
In the 10 states where recreational cannabis is legal, California and Alaska allow cannabis lounges, similar to Amsterdam where consumers can purchase and smoke marijuana.
Colorado, which was the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, recently failed in a vote to establish tasting rooms. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has supported but not yet approved the creation of cannabis lounges and pot-consumption events.
Sam Stapleton, who owns Diamond Tree, a cannabis retail outlet in Bend, predicted that an entirely different segment of the market could open up to support the cannabis lounges.
“It would be fun,” he said. “Everyone might try it once or twice to say they did it. It might be like an after work kind of thing.”
A bar-like facility where people consume cannabis is not something Stapleton said he sees attached to his stores.
The Senate bill, if passed, would give the Oregon Liquor Control Commission oversight of the consumption and sale of marijuana items at one-time events, and in cannabis lounges.
The bill also allows the delivery of marijuana to consumers at vacation rentals and hotels and provides the framework for tours of licensed premises. The OLCC would be required to establish the requirements and standards under the proposal. Municipalities could opt in.
“I have a significant industry in my district that deal with retail and they wanted to be able to have events and have customers sample before they buy,” said Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland. “Folks came to me and asked if we could do this.”
Lawmakers heard testimony both for and against the measure Thursday, Frederick said in an interview following the Senate Committee on Business and General Government hearing.
The idea comes with complications and objections from supporters of the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act and from law enforcement agencies, which would have to enforce DUII laws.
Under the measure, the lounges would need to be licensed by the OLCC and have proper ventilation. They could not be within 1,000 feet of a school. Local governments would have to opt in to allow them.
“I don’t know where it will go from here,” Frederick said. ”We need to find some way to provide a space for people.”
The next step will be for the committee to hold a work session, make amendments to the measure, if necessary, and possibly send it to the Senate floor for a vote, he said.
Not all those who submitted testimony were in favor of the measure. A Portland resident wrote that the measure chips away at the clean air act, and another expressed concern about an increase in people driving intoxicated.
But people need places to consume cannabis, said Jesse Bontecou, Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association deputy director.
“By allowing farm tours, tasting spaces, and cannabis cafes, Oregon can cement its place as the pinnacle of America’s, if not the world’s, cannabis tourism destinations,” Bontecou said in an email. “We are confident that (SB 639) will pass and we look forward to working with the legislature and the public health lobby to find a reasonable and pragmatic path forward.”
Imagine going to a winery or a beer festival and not being able to sample, said Jennifer Gyllenskog, Cannabis United director.
“This law could give consumers the freedom to consume, offer social community, reduce/contain public nuisance and support local canna-businesses,” Gyllenskog said in an email. “It may also assist our state’s oversupply and falling prices.”
Oregon has a six-year supply of recreational marijuana, which generated $82 million in taxes in 2018, according to a 2019 report from the OLCC.
Samantha Montanaro, co-founder of Tokativity, a women-centric membership-based organization in Portland and Bend, testified before the committee that providing a public space to consume cannabis outside the home is needed.
“It was shortsighted to legalize cannabis without a place for people to get together and smoke it,” Montanaro said. “Legalized cafes create a space that we can put guidelines on. We’re asking for the same provisions that are included with cigar lounges or hookah bars. It’s not going to become Amsterdam, but I want a place where I can go with my girlfriends, like a bar.”
The Indoor Clean Air Act requires all workplaces and enclosed public places to be free of smoke, vapor and aerosol.
However, smoking tobacco is allowed in certified smoke shops, cigar bars, designated smoking areas, hookah lounges that use tobacco water pipes, and some hotel rooms, according to the Oregon Health Authority website.
Cannabis smoking is not among the list of exceptions, said Karen Girard, Oregon Health Authority manager of health promotion and chronic disease prevention.
“People are consuming cannabis now,” Chapman of the New Revenue Coalition said. “We are missing out on a large chunk of tax revenue by not inviting people to come and enjoy our craft product.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2117, firstname.lastname@example.org