Dear Pot Lawyer,
With cannabis in the crosshairs on a federal level, do you have any good, all-around advice for local consumers and businesses to stay out of trouble?
Mister Rogers had the right idea. And Jesus summed it up nicely when he said in Mark 12:31, “Do not annoy thy neighbor.” (I’m paraphrasing.) Everyone has neighbors. Be nice to them. Whether you’re a business, a caregiver, a patient, or a consumer, having positive relationships with your neighbors makes life better.
Before the DEA, DOJ, OLCC, OHA, SWAT, landlord, or anyone else gets involved, neighbors are often the front line of legal enforcement (and defense). Many headaches can simply be avoided if your neighbors are comfortable, happy, and enthusiastic allies. If they like you, they are less likely to make complaints, give unpleasant testimony, or start lawsuits. They might even stick up for you.
Grouchy neighbors can create real hassles simply by complaining (with or without merit) to an authority. If it’s bad enough, they may sometimes file nuisance lawsuits. Under Oregon law, “nuisance” is generally divided into two categories: (1) private nuisance, defined as an unreasonable invasion of a person’s interest in the use and enjoyment of the person’s land; and (2) public nuisance, defined as an unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public. If there is a substantial and unreasonable invasion of or interference with these rights, there could be a legal cause of action for nuisance. In the cannabis context, this might relate to odor, noise, foot traffic, or other activity that meets the non-frivolous legal threshold of a “substantial and unreasonable” invasion or interference.
At another level, Portland neighbors have a significant and direct impact on cannabis businesses as businesses jump through regulatory hoops. For example, some cannabis businesses must pass special land-use reviews that can require giving notice to the neighborhood under the Portland City Code. This can also involve public hearings where anyone, whether they are well informed or not, may stand up and testify. Neighbors and neighborhood associations often show up for these hearings, and city officials pay attention to their concerns.
Further, Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) was given the responsibility of regulating cannabis business licenses in our fair city. ONI’s Cannabis Policy Oversight Team (C-POT—get it?) informs the ongoing development of ONI’s cannabis policy, with seats at the table for interested neighbors and neighborhood associations. While ONI’s suitability as cannabis regulator is debatable, the effect of direct neighborhood involvement is that it behooves cannabis businesses to be good neighbors, perhaps more so than businesses in different industries that can operate without such immediate accountability to neighbors and neighborhood associations.
Therefore, Portland cannabis businesses are essentially required to be mindful of their neighbors. In addition, cannabis businesses tend to be more sensitive to political issues in general because of cannabis’ legal status—the entire industry depends, in part, upon winning the hearts and minds of pot prohibitionists.
From what I have seen, the industry takes its mandated neighborliness in stride, even though the mandates may be unfair or excessive. This is not a big surprise since we’re talking about product that you’re expected to share anyway, by passing it to thy neighbor.