The Weed Issue 2019
At Kacey Musgraves’ Portland show in February, I saw someone ejected for vaping during the country queen’s performance of “High Time,” a twangy ode to the devil’s lettuce. On a personal level, I can’t say I enjoy being engulfed in a stranger’s smoke plumes, but weed is legal now, and if people want to get high, they’re obviously going to find a way. And so I wondered: Is there any potential for cannabis-friendly music venues in Oregon’s future?
Efforts are already underway in other weed-legal states, but it’s a complicated issue, and it’ll be impossible unless public consumption is legalized in Oregon. Last November, Mickey Melchiondo—AKA “Dean Ween,” guitarist of alternative rock band Ween—announced his plan to open a music venue in Denver where attendees can vape or consume edibles. Under Colorado state law, a cannabis-friendly venue cannot also serve alcohol, and patrons would need to bring their own weed, since it’s illegal for social consumption sites to sell THC products. But still, regardless of the restrictions, Dean Ween’s Honey Pot Lounge would’ve been the first venue licensed for cannabis use in Colorado history.
Things did not go as planned. In February, the Honey Pot group applied for special-events permits to host 10 cannabis-friendly concerts at an off-site parking lot. But apparently the property owners had not approved any events involving social consumption, so the Honey Pot team withdrew their application in the hopes of finding another location. On April 6, the Honey Pot Lounge officially opened, in partnership with Vape & Play—the city’s second social cannabis bar, which temporarily closed in January after only two weeks in business. But there are no concerts currently listed on the Honey Pot’s website (so far, there’s just an off-site 4/20 event dubbed “the Puff Ball”).
Mike Tyson is also dipping a toe in the social consumption pond. In February, the former heavyweight boxer hosted his inaugural cannabis-themed Kind Music Festival in Desert Hot Springs, California, “the future site of the Tyson Ranch Resort, a 412-acre entertainment complex, luxury glamping resort, and cannabis research and design facility.” However, weed was not sold at the event, and according to reports, attendees were unsure whether or not they were allowed to smoke.
It’s a tough nut to crack, opening a business or hosting an event where it’s illegal to sell the product being consumed. The Oregon Legislature considered proposals for public consumption sites in 2017, but it didn’t go anywhere; so far, supporters haven’t even been able to get approval for cannabis patios. This year’s legislative session saw the introduction of SB 639, sponsored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene and Sen. Lew Frederick of Portland, which would allow the OLCC to permit cannabis lounges, smoking at temporary events, home deliveries, and “tasting” tours at cannabis farms.
The bill has ignited a fierce debate. It would require an exemption from the Indoor Clean Air Act, and some—like retired public health nurse Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham, and Rachael Banks, a public health director for Multnomah County—argue that even with proper ventilation systems, weed-friendly spaces still pose a risk of secondhand smoke, and ultimately could threaten the hard-fought laws and social norms concerning indoor smoking.
Proponents of the bill have highlighted the fact that it would generate tax revenue and attract even more cannabis tourism to Oregon. Madeline Martinez, the executive director of the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), considers the legalization of public consumption a civil rights issue. “This is about equal rights, because whenever you pick a certain group and treat them differently, that is discrimination,” Martinez recently wrote on NORML’s blog. “Medical marijuana patients, renters, the poor, people of color, and women are often the least likely to not have a safe legal space to consume legally purchased or possessed cannabis.”
SB 639’s supporters also include the New Revenue Coalition, an organization that says its primary goal is to establish a “safe space” for cannabis consumption. At a public hearing in February, the New Revenue Coalition’s Legislative Director Sam Chapman echoed Martinez’s argument that “medical patients, renters, and disadvantaged communities deserve a legal place to consume a legal product, out of public view,” and added that people are already posing more of a public health risk of secondhand smoke by smoking on the street, in parks, and in cars than they might with properly regulated lounges.
In an email to the Mercury, Troy Duker, Frederick’s chief of staff, confirmed that SB 639 “would open up the possibility for concerts and festivals if the organizers have met the permitting requirements as required by OLCC. However, since the bill has not been scheduled for a work session, I am uncertain whether the bill will make it out of committee.”
Chapman confirmed this hazy outlook for SB 639: “A handful of Senate Democrats have essentially killed the bill.”
Bottom line: That smoker getting bumped from the Kacey Musgraves show represented a much bigger conflict happening in Oregon and other states with legal cannabis—a conflict that doesn’t look like it will be resolved anytime soon.