Senate bill would allow smoking lounges to provide a legal venue for renters and tourists to consume marijuana.

COURTESY PHOTO - Marijuana leafSALEM — Smoking lounges could still be the next trend for Oregon's recreational marijuana market, under a controversial Senate bill in the Legislature's Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation.

Proponents say cannabis smoking lounges would stimulate tourism and give renters a place to legally smoke.

The recreational marijuana law, passed by voters in 2014, has created a conundrum for renters and tourists, proponents say. The law prohibits public consumption of marijuana but allows it in a private residence. If a landlord prohibits marijuana use at a rental unit, or if someone is visiting the state, some renters and tourists may have no legal place to consume the drug.

"In reality, this restriction has made the legal consumption of cannabis impossible for many Oregonians who do not own their primary residence, live with small children or those who live in government housing. As a result, many otherwise responsible adults are left no other choice but to smoke or vaporize cannabis in public, on sidewalks, in parks, in cars," said Sam Chapman, founder of Portland-based New Economy Consulting, which advises cannabis entrepreneurs and investors.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, testified that even with marijuana legalization, minorities have been prosecuted disproportionately for using marijuana illegally in public. Allowing smoking lounges also would help address that social injustice, she said.

Opposition to the bill led to the formation of a committee workgroup that tried to address concerns by public health officials that the lounges could normalize marijuana smoking for young people and pollute indoor air.

The workgroup proposed an amendment Tuesday, May 16, that would require the lounges to be located on outdoor patios screened from public view and would eliminate a provision to allow members of the cannabis industry to obtain licenses to hold temporary events where attendees could consume cannabis. Cities and counties also would have to opt in to allow the licenses for the lounges.

Despite the concessions, public health officials continued to express their opposition to the bill during a hearing at the Capitol Tuesday, May 16.

"The harms of secondhand tobacco smoke are well-known, and secondhand marijuana smoke is also harmful," said Katrina Hedberg, state health officer and state epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority.

Like tobacco, marijuana smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals and poses a risk to those exposed to it, she said.

"By allowing for the social consumption of cannabis, Oregon risks the rollback of years of progress related to social norms around smoking," she said.

Even if smoking areas are screened, minors will still be able to smell marijuana smoke wafting from lounges. She said studies show that communities that have hooka lounges have a higher prevalence of smoking among youth.

"Social normalization does affect youth so we are very concerned about that," she said.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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