An Oregon Senate committee will hold a Thursday hearing on legislation to allow the social consumption of marijuana at licensed lounges and events. If enacted, the bill would also let cannabis producers lead public tours of their facilities.
Oregonians voted in 2014 to legalize marijuana, but the existing law’s prohibition of public use and lack of spaces for consumption have been a missing piece of the legal cannabis puzzle for advocates. A political action group called the New Revenue Coalition (NRC) is pushing to make those changes this year.
“Unless you own your own home, chances are your lease agreement forbids you to consume cannabis,” Sam Chapman, NRC’s legislative director, told Marijuana Moment. “This disproportionately affects renters, people of low economic status, cannabis patients that might be living in federal housing and people of color. We see this as a social justice and equity bill that is allowing for the public accommodation of cannabis and cannabis consumers.”
The bill up for a hearing, S.B. 639, would authorize the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to regulate the consumption and sale of marijuana items at temporary events, including licensure of the venues where those events are held. It would also allow for consumption and sale of marijuana items at speciality lounges, as well as delivery of marijuana products to consumers.
Und the legislation, producers and processors of cannabis would also be allowed to offer tours of their facilities in much the same way that Oregon’s wineries and craft breweries already can. The events, lounges and tours contemplated by the proposal could not take place within 1,000 feet of schools.
The Senate Committee on Business and General Government will take testimony on the bill, with a possible vote coming at the end of the meeting.
Chapman said the Coalition is working on an amendment that would will allow the OLCC to use pre-tax distribution funds to offset whatever additional costs the licenses will create.
“That’s going to be our way to make sure we don’t get a huge fiscal statement attached to it,” Chapman said. “We’re trying to shorten the process as much as possible and make it pretty straightforward to move out of committee and in theory to the Senate floor and then to the House chamber”
Testimony has already been submitted in advance of Thursday’s meeting:
“I no longer own my home and now live in section 8 apartment. The federal government does not allow any cannabis consumption of any kind on the premises,” wrote a patient named Charlotte, who said she is blind in her left eye due to advanced glaucoma. “I have no place to consume. In other words, the Oregon Legislature and OLCC have effectively shut me out of the medical program and assured me of losing the sight in my right eye as well as the left so I hope you are all happy now.”
“A place to gather and consume would be so welcome yet even though Portland has a bar on every corner we cannabis users are left out just like always so for all intents and purposes it may as well still be illegal because there are many others like me who suffer daily because of your rules,” she pleaded in her testimony. “Please pass something approving public consumption and stop punishing us.”
Michael Bachara, a member of Oregon NORML, said that the current prohibition on places to use cannabis socially impacts tourists as well as residents who rent.
“Consumption of cannabis in public is illegal, yet tourists and patients and adults that rent rather than own their homes have the right to purchase and possess cannabis but no space they can legally consume,” he wrote. “Enforcement of public consumption laws disproportionately targets the poor and people of color… In the end, social consumption lounges would also attract more tourists to Oregon and allow for promotion of our local craft producers.”
Chapman, of NRC, said he’s feeling confident in the bill’s success.
“Most legislatures are receptive to the fact that the status quo is a privileged legalization that really only benefits those who can afford to own their own homes,” he said. “The social justice aspect is really resonating with people.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed Charlotte’s testimony to Oregon NORML Executive Director Madeline Martinez because of how it appears on the state legislature’s website.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Presses Housing Secretary About Marijuana Eviction Policies
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pressed the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) about policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession on Tuesday.
During a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, the congresswoman first quoted HUD Secretary Ben Carson from a 2017 speech where he acknowledged that the war on drugs has disproportionately impacted minority communities.
“Do you acknowledge that the war on drugs disproportionately impacted black communities and communities of color despite marijuana and other drug use levels being comparable to white communities?” she asked the secretary for the record.
“Traditionally that has been the case,” Carson replied.
@SecretaryCasron: "I'm always in favor of more flexibility." pic.twitter.com/7ze07GqZc9
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 21, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez went on to say that she was concerned that “the negative impact of the war on drugs has not been limited to incarceration” and that “we had legislative rippling effect that also seems to have been codified in our housing system”
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Carson said that property owners in individual jurisdictions have discretion when it comes to enforcing the policy, but he conceded that these rules are in effect under federal law.
“So a person could be stop and frisked and be found in possession of a small amount of marijuana and then be evicted or have their entire family evicted from public housing?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
“That is a possibility,” Carson said.
Who says progressives can’t get stuff done?
Thank you @SecretaryCarson for your testimony in front of the Financial Services Committee today.
We have many crises in housing, & I look forward to reversing the unjust legacy laws from the War on Drugs in our public housing system. https://t.co/ZK8aFsyIxo
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 21, 2019
The congresswoman then asked if Carson was aware of the “no fault” rule, to which he replied that the “use of such activity is extremely limited, if ever used.” Ocasio-Cortez responded by stating that the policies “are still codified in federal law” and asked whether the official supports “reversing some of these provisions” such as the “no fault” rule.
Carson said he was willing to talk about individual cases, and the congresswoman followed up by noting that there’s a lack of holistic review for these cases. Given Carson’s interest in hearing details about individual cases, she wondered if he’d “support being able to move some of these policies to a more holistic review.”
“Should that case-by-case consideration be codified in federal law instead of having blanket, one-strike or no fault policies?” she asked.
“I’m always in favor of more flexibility,” he said, signaling that he’d be open to reforming some of the anti-drug policies in effect federally at HUD.
Should Carson decline to take action, legislation introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in April would protect public housing residents who use marijuana in compliance with state law from being evicted.
Ocasio-Cortez herself has filed a bill that would prevent public housing applicants from being denied due to a low-level drug conviction that resulted in a sentence of under ten years and prohibit drug testing of applicants “as a condition of such housing assistance,” among other reforms.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
Presidential Candidates Are Cosponsoring A New Marijuana Descheduling Bill
Four 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have signed onto new legislation to federally deschedule marijuana—while a handful of other White House hopefuls are notably missing as original cosponsors.
The companion bills introduced on Monday by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and use some tax revenue from marijuana sales to provide grants to socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals to participate in the legal industry.
It would also set aside money to support efforts to expunge past marijuana convictions.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—who are each seeking the Democratic presidential nomination—are cosponsoring the bills.
But Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) have so far declined to give the legislation their signature, despite their overall support for marijuana reform.
Bennet was an original cosponsor of a similar bill that Schumer filed during the 115th Congress.
The reasons he and other candidates decided against joining as original cosponsors of the new legislation are unclear, though some of them may end up adding their names at a later date.
For Booker, it’s possible that the senator doesn’t feel that the bill goes far enough in terms of promoting social equity—which is why he hasn’t supported separate cannabis reform legislation introduced this Congress.
Outside of the presidential candidates, Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Carper (D-DE) also cosponsored last year’s version but are not yet on the new proposal.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to pass more modest cannabis reform legislation, including a bipartisan bill to give marijuana businesses access to banks that cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March.
Photo courtesy of Evan Johnson.
Two Federal Agencies Schedule Meetings To Discuss Marijuana-Related Issues
Two federal agencies recently announced that they will be holding meetings this summer to discuss public health and safety issues related to marijuana.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a notice published in the Federal Register last week that its Board of Scientific Counselors will convene on July 16 and 17 to tackle a wide variety of topics, including how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and how to balance intramural and extramural research initiatives.
On the second day of the meeting, which will be open to the public, the panel of experts will also discuss the role of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in “addressing public health concerns related to marijuana.”
Separately, on June 11 and 12, members of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Drug Testing Advisory Board will meet for a conversation about federal workplace drug testing policies. Part of that meeting will involve a discussion of “emerging issues surrounding marijuana legalization.”
While the Federal Register filing does not spell out which “emerging issues” will be specifically addressed during the first day’s public session, it also notes that the board will discuss the “impact of cannabis laws on drug testing and future direction” in a closed session on the second day of the meeting.
The federal discussion comes as marijuana reform advocates have stepped up efforts to end the employer practice of penalizing workers who test positive for THC metabolites.
In New York City, for example, a City Council measure prohibiting pre-employment drug testing for cannabis in specific industries and another barring such tests for people on probation were both enacted this month without the mayor’s signature.
While federal marijuana laws continue to strictly prohibit cannabis, the growing legalization movement has forced various agencies to address the issue. Officials from some federal divisions have observed in recent months that the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law has inhibited research into its public health benefits and risks.
In December, representatives from the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse were part of a workshop focusing on cannabis research.
U.S. government agencies have also used Federal Register notices to solicit the public’s help in identifying studies about the effects of cannabis on disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.