An Oregon lawmaker is preparing a renewed push to legalize marijuana consumption lounges—and, if going through the state legislature doesn’t work, a coalition of cannabis businesses and advocates says they are prepared to go to the ballot.
As in most other states that have ended marijuana prohibition for adults, efforts to allow “cannabis cafes” or other licensed businesses where adults can consume the drug together socially have thus far been stymied.
Across the country, the only cities that permit spaces for marijuana consumption are San Francisco, where some dispensaries dating from the medical-marijuana era have consumption lounges, and Denver, where a recent ballot measure allows businesses that do not sell cannabis to apply for such a permit.
Alaska regulators released draft rules this week that, if enacted, would make the state the first in the nation to specifically allow and license social cannabis consumption areas.
In other legalized states and jurisdictions, tourists and people who live in subsidized housing often have no place to use marijuana without breaking the rules.
Failing to accommodate marijuana consumers “is an equity issue,” said Sam Chapman, an Oregon-based political consultant. “It’s an issue of public accommodation.”
“If you look up the definition of public accommodation [under laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act], I cannot think of a better example that cannabis would fall under,” he said. “Patients do not have places to legally consume their medicine. The state is housing veterans and seniors who need to be able to consume cannabis legally—and the state is not providing a place for that.”
A new political action committee, comprised of “cannabis industry businesses and allies,” called the New Revenue Coalition believes that 2019 will be the year to provide those accommodations in Oregon.
Portland-area state Sen. Lew Frederick (D) plans to introduce a bill that would allow for stand-alone cannabis “consumption cafes” as well as “tasting rooms” at dispensaries and cultivation sites.
According to a bill summary provided to Marijuana Moment, the bill would also:
*Legalize tours “similar to those conducted by the state’s microbrewery and winery industry”
*Allow delivery services to bring cannabis to hotels and into cities and counties that prohibit regulated cannabis businesses
*Allow for cannabis consumption spaces at public events
No legislative language exists yet, and the earliest Frederick could introduce a bill is for the 2019 session beginning in January.
Consumption spaces have so far been missing from the state’s legalization puzzle, a compromise made to help soothe fears around introducing recreational marijuana.
Now that the cannabis industry has proved that it is a responsible and profitable pursuit—and one that’s creating a dedicated revenue stream for state tax coffers—advocates like Chapman say it’s time to correct that.
“It’s easy for folks in the industry to get caught in the movement with all the success we’re having,” he told Marijuana Moment. “But that has largely not changed the majority of the stigmatization that is out there. There is still a lot of work and education to be done.”
Unlike in Denver, where consumption cafes had to be legalized locally via the ballot, “We want very much to get this done in the Legislature,” said Chapman, the coalition’s legislative director.
At the same time, the coalition plans to collect signatures for a voter-initiative campaign.
“Whenever we feel we’re not being taken seriously in the Legislature, we will ramp up,” he said.
Probable arguments in opposition will highlight over-serving, potential links between consumption spaces and stoned driving and contentions that marijuana smoke causes damage to lungs and health similar to tobacco.
Training cafe servers not to over-serve—as staff at alcohol-serving bars are trained to do—and pointing to studies that do not show a link between marijuana use and lung issues should be sufficient, Chapman said.
“People are already on the roads smoking in parking lots and parks,” he said. “These are the places where we truly believe cause public health concerns.”