I have always been proud to call Oregon my home. As a fourth generation Oregonian, and the third generation of my family to cultivate cannabis in Oregon, I was extremely proud when Oregon voted to legalize cannabis for adult use in 2014. A lot of people worked very hard for a long time to make that effort succeed. Since the passage of Measure 91, Oregon’s cannabis community has obviously seen its ups and downs. The measure was far from perfect, but it was light years better than prohibition, and activists like myself saw it as a stepping stone towards better public policy rather than a permanent fix.
We knew that our work was not done, and that was even before some members of the Oregon Legislature started inserting the failed political approaches of the past into the equation. Plenty of work is left to be done in Oregon. One cannabis policy area that I think needs to receive more attention in Oregon is social cannabis consumption reform. For those that are unfamiliar, Oregon has a strict policy (Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act) against allowing consumption of cannabis indoors. Despite what some may think, there are exceptions made to the indoor ban for tobacco, as seen with cigar and vapor lounges. However, there are no exceptions for cannabis at this time, even though cannabis is legal for adults in Oregon.
This poses a big compliance problem for cannabis consumers. More and more adults are traveling to Oregon and taking advantage of the new found freedoms that Oregon’s cannabis reform has created. Portland, Oregon is a particularly popular destination for cannabis consumers from around the world. Unfortunately it isn’t until travelers make their first legal purchase of legal cannabis before they realize there is virtually no way to legally consume it in many cases. Unless where they are staying specifically allows cannabis consumption on site, which is rare, the tourist is forced to either refrain from consuming cannabis, or break the rules. For better or worse, many choose to try to consume cannabis in a back alley or some other place that they think people won’t walk past.
This same scenario is true for people that live in a residential situation where on-site cannabis use is prohibited. College students who live in student housing can relate to what is being described. Medical cannabis patients. especially those in temporary care facilities, would benefit greatly from allowing cannabis lounges. So would parents who want to consume cannabis responsibly but don’t want to have cannabis in their home. This is particularly true for people that live in federally funded housing (Section 8). It’s a problem for many consumers, and one that is growing by the day. One of the most common questions that my retailer friends say they get is ‘where can I consume what I just purchased?’ Unfortunately, retailers have no where to point customers to.
When Oregon voted to approve Measure 91, voters were giving the directive to the Oregon Legislature to implement the initiative responsibly. This included fixing gaps in the initiative and improving upon it where needed. Ultimately what everyone wants is for there to be compliance with reasonable rules, so that those that wish to consume cannabis responsibly can do so in a responsible fashion, and those that do not want to be around cannabis do not have to be around it. What we are seeing right now at the Oregon Legislature is a lot of elected officials sticking their heads in the ground and refusing to address the reality around them while clinging to the last strings of prohibition.
I have walked the streets around the Oregon State Capitol campus before, and I have smelt the waft of recent cannabis consumption in the air. With so many events being held around the campus, the University next door, and downtown just a block or two away, it is fairly common to smell cannabis on the breeze around the Oregon Capitol. I am not saying it is right or wrong, but I am saying that Oregon elected officials have noses too, and I know for a fact that they are smelling what everyone else is smelling. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that the same aroma is common in parts of their home districts. I don’t personally feel that social consumption is the most pressing issue facing Oregon today, but I do think it’s fairly obvious that this is a very easy thing to fix, in a way where everyone wins.
The only ‘losers’ in this scenario are traditional cannabis opponents who will fight reform at all costs, even when the reform makes perfect sense. Cannabis opponents tend to make the same arguments against social consumption reform. One of the most frequent arguments made is that it would result in a spike in people driving under the influence of cannabis. Keep in mind, this same argument has been made in every state leading up to a successful legalization vote, and the prediction of a stoned driver epidemic has yet to materialize. An overwhelming amount of evidence has shown that traffic safety statistics improve in states after cannabis reform, and that responsible cannabis consumers do not pose a risk to public roadways.
Just as legalization as a whole has not led to a stoned driver epidemic, so too would social consumption reform lead to the sky remaining intact. Cannabis opponents are operating on the false assumption that people are not consuming cannabis in social settings now, which is obviously not true. Just as many people are consuming cannabis now as would be if social consumption was legalized. The only difference is that now cannabis is often consumed in cars before and after an event, or around the corner in an alley from the destination, or in public view in defiance of the law. Cannabis related events occur all over Oregon right now, and other legal states, so where is the evidence of the inevitably horror on public roadways? I strongly suspect none exists, and that opponents fears are unfounded. There is an easy fix to all of this – allow cannabis lounges near event venues and/or allow designated temporary consumption areas at events.
Another argument that I hear against social consumption reform is how would oversight work? This is a common delay tactic when cannabis reform is involved. Opponents try very hard to make it sound overly complicated and that a bureaucratic nightmare would be the result of issuing licenses for lounges and/or temporary consumption at events, and that it’s just easier to maintain the status quo than to make such a ‘earth moving public policy change.’ These opponents do what they can to make a hurdle the size of speed bump look like Mt. Hood.
I am by no means a public policy wizard, but wouldn’t it be safe to say that whoever issues the licenses would do the oversight, and that since the licenses are going to be expensive like all other things cannabis related, that cash strapped government entities would be clamoring to be the ones to do the oversight? The bureaucracy Frankenstein is real, I get that, but it’s from the cannabis industry’s side that has to do all of the hoop jumping, not the government side that just has to perform standard due diligence, issue a license, and collect the fee. If there are complaints, it would be handled by the local police if it involved a crime, a state regulator if it falls within their jurisdiction (OLCC most of the time I assume), or by civil courts if its a civil matter.
It would be no different than if there was a similar dispute but alcohol consumption was involved. When there is an issue involving alcohol consumption at a private business or event, how is it handled? How would cannabis be any different? Opponents will argue ‘but it will require more police and security resources for these events!’ Yes, that is true, but it is also true for every event with a significant population size, even if it doesn’t involve cannabis or alcohol. When there are parades, carnivals, food festivals, or even some basketball tournaments such as the one held on the roads surrounding the Oregon Capitol (ONG Hoopla), it is up to event organizers to ensure that funding is in place for adequate security and police officers before a permit is issued. The same thing would occur with a social consumption permit or license.
Oregon SB 307 would legalize social consumption in Oregon, and would involve community approval before a permit or license was issued. Opponents will still try to cling to the argument that there will be a negative community impact from social consumption reform, but the bill as I understand it would address that issue head on. Communities that wanted to opt-out could easily keep social consumption out of their area, and those that wanted to make the more sensible choice and opt-in could do so, and reap the benefits of such a logical public policy move.
Oregon voters spoke loud and clear when they said that they wanted to see cannabis regulated like alcohol. I can consume alcohol in a public setting all over Oregon, including the City of Monmouth where I went to college. Monmouth was once famous for being a dry college town, with social alcohol consumption largely prohibited. That ended in 2002, and now bars are as commonplace in Monmouth as they are in any other town of similar size in Oregon. Just as the sky didn’t fall when social alcohol consumption reform came to little Monmouth, Oregon, so too will the same be true if/when social cannabis consumption comes to the great State of Oregon. Such reforms can easily work, so long as a logical, sensible approach is taken to the issue and the process isn’t sabatoged by cannabis opponents that only offer up unfounded claims, delay tactics, and fear mongering. If you haven’t contacted your Rep or Senator in Oregon to urge them to support Oregon Senat Bill 307, please do so now! #2cents