Cliff Robinson of the Portland Trail Blazers. Oregonian file photo(
Former Trail Blazer Cliff Robinson joined Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly this week in supporting a bill that would allow social consumption of cannabis in Oregon.
Senate Bill 307 would allow licensed lounges for marijuana consumption, meaning people could smoke or vape cannabis in a social setting outside of their personal homes.
While the bill originally included language allowing social consumption at special events, after pushback, lawmakers got rid of the event language.
Rick Osborn, Communications Director for the Senate Majority Office, said Thursday over email that the bill in its current form would allow cannabis to be consumed in an "outdoor area," which is defined by the Oregon Clean Indoor Air Act as "no more than a roof and three walls."
"Right now," Osborn said. "the bill is silent regarding the prospect of people bringing their own cannabis to these ‘lounges’ to consume. So that could happen, as the bill is written."
"Any time that a vendor sells cannabis and operates one of these lounges, it has to be a licensed retailer," Osborn continued. "So if a retailer is licensed to sell cannabis, they can get a license to operate one of these."
Portland officials called the bill "a common-sense approach" that would allow tourists and residents to consume legal cannabis, which they can now purchase but may not be able to actually use.
"The same way Oregon and our city celebrate our craft beer and wine industry," reads the testimony letter from Wheeler and Eudaly, "Portland welcomes and wants to provide opportunities for our emerging craft cannabis industry."
The bill, they said, would boost tourism while also helping Oregonians.
"Oregonians living in apartments or a rented house may not be permitted to vaporize or smoke cannabis in their homes," reads the letter. "Absent a legal, regulated, and safe place outside the home to consume cannabis, these Oregonians may find themselves consuming cannabis in public view on sidewalks, on streets, in vehicles, and in parks."
In his testimony, Robinson pointed out the racial disparity that still exists in arrests and citations for marijuana use nationally, even in states with legal cannabis, saying safe places for adults to consume marijuana could begin to address this inequity.
"A study of Seattle police enforcement’s arrest of public cannabis consumption found that African Americans made up 36 percent of those arrests, while only comprising eight percent of the city’s population " his testimony reads. "Studies have shown that marijuana is used at the same rate across all races, so these arrest statistics are very troubling."
"Senate Bill 307 is a sensible step forward to help avoid falling into the same pattern of African Americans disproportionately arrested and cited for marijuana," Robinson said.
Opponents of the bill say that social consumption of cannabis exposes people to secondhand smoke and normalizes marijuana use for children.
"A recent study from the Journal of the American Heart Association encourages secondhand smoke laws extend to marijuana because both tobacco and marijuana smoke impair blood vessel function similarly," the Oregon Nurses Association wrote in their testimony. "Like tobacco, studies have found that smoking marijuana can irritate the lungs and lead to breathing problems like cough, excess mucus, bronchitis, and worsening of conditions like asthma and cystic fibrosis."
"By allowing for the social consumption of cannabis, Oregon risks the rollback of years of progress related to social norms around smoking," said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, Health Officer and State Epidemiologist with the Public Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority, in her testimony against the bill.
Oregon isn’t the only state facing the question of whether to allow social cannabis consumption. Colorado and Alaska have recently wrestled with the issue, weighing public health and individual rights.
Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project in Colorado said Thursday that two Colorado communities allow the social use of cannabis, Pueblo County and the town of Nederland.
Tvert said Denver last year created a voter-approved pilot program for permitting venues for cannabis use. The process for ironing out how it would work has taken months but interested venues are expected to begin applying for permits in July.
In Alaska, the law that passed in 2015 allowing legal recreational marijuana also allowed for on-site consumption, but as of now, the rules for how it would work are still being debated.
Portland has its own conflicted history of social cannabis consumption. In February 2016, the World Famous Cannabis Cafe, a place for marijuana users to consume their own products in a social setting, was forced to close after public health officials said that the establishment was violating Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act.
Osborn said that the next steps for the bill are unclear at this time.
"It’s not currently scheduled for a hearing or work session," Osborn told us, but added that because the Joint Committee On Marijuana Regulation "doesn’t adhere to the same deadlines as other policy committees," SB 307 still has a chance to make it into law.
— Lizzy Acker