WeHo Residents Debate the Impact of an Apartment Smoking Ban on Cannabis

An internet outage on the Eastside Monday night forced the West Hollywood City Council to delay discussion of a controversial ban on smoking in apartments. However, the Council did allow public commenters to weigh, with many opposing the ban because it would include smoking cannabis as well as tobacco. The City Council now will hold its deliberation on this long-delayed issue at its Aug. 17 meeting.

A fire on a power pole at Santa Monica Boulevard and Genesee Avenue knocked out internet access for some residents on the city’s Eastside. Since the coronavirus pandemic has forced all city meetings to move online, the internet outage meant those residents could not access the meeting on their computers. As this was a potential violation of the Brown Act, which allows for full public participation, the Council opted not to discuss the item.

However, since there were 22 people waiting to make public comment via the telephone, the Council went ahead and heard those comments at this meeting. At its next meeting in two weeks, the Council will hear more public comment and hold its deliberations on the issue.

The ordinance would ban smoking for all new tenants in apartment and condominium buildings. Existing tenants would have the option of declaring their units as smoking or non-smoking. However, residents would only be allowed to smoke in those smoking-permitted units for the next 16 months. Effective Jan. 1, 2022, those smoking units would automatically become non-smoking units, and smoking would then be completely banned in all multi-family buildings. Smoking in a building’s common areas would also be banned.

Similar bans were adopted in Santa Monica in 2012, Berkeley in 2013 and Beverly Hills in 2017. A report to the City Council from the city’s Public Works Department notes that West Hollywood has received poor grades relating to smoking reflected in the 2020 State of Tobacco Control Report published by the American Lung Association. While the city earned an overall grade of “C” on tobacco control, it earned an “F” on its smoke-free housing policies. “This is due to the absence of City policies regulating smoking in apartments, condominiums, and or residential common areas,” the report says.

The ordinance is aimed at tobacco smoking but would also affect cannabis smoking and vaping since state laws dictate that marijuana cannot be smoked anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. While tobacco smokers have the option to go on the sidewalk to smoke, cannabis smokers do not have that option because state law bans marijuana smoking in public places like the sidewalk.

Councilmember John D’Amico questioned if the city could ban tobacco smoking in apartments but not marijuana. City Attorney Lauren Langer explained state law was explicitly clear that anywhere tobacco smoking is banned, cannabis is also banned. Nonetheless, the Council asked her to explore ways to potentially separate the two in the ordinance.

Against the Ban

The ordinance, which has been delayed for over a year, brought out heated arguments from both sides of the issue. Of the 22 people speaking during the public comment period, 11 opposed the ban because it would affect cannabis. They pointed out it had been a long, hard fight to win the right to legally use marijuana, but now the apartment smoking ban would extinguish that right by eliminating the primary place people can legally smoke cannabis. Several called it a new “Prohibition.”

“Adding any sort of prohibition on cannabis only serves to perpetuate the war on drugs and turns cannabis users right back into second-class citizens,” said resident Jackie Subeck, who owns one of the city’s cannabis consumption lounges. “It’s never a good idea to write policy around some angry people who just want to get their way and don’t like something.”

Resident Mark Hughes felt the ordinance was unfair because it creates a double standard in that it would affect apartment renters but not homeowners.

“This agenda item grants exclusive privilege to homeowners to smoke and vape marijuana while disenfranchising less financially well-off residents,” said Hughes.

Resident Jason Beck, who uses cannabis to help treat his cerebral palsy, called the idea of a smoking ban “atrocious” and used the city’s support of LGBT rights as an analogy.

“[The fact the city has been] the leader in the gay rights movement and always fighting to keep government out of the bedroom, but yet now the City of West Hollywood is now trying to reinsert government into the living room makes zero sense to me,” said Beck.

Resident Fritz Margolin suggested the city might see class action lawsuits because the ordinance would deprive people of a right they currently enjoy.

Others were opposed to the ban since it would affect people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes, something the city has long supported.

Several noted the city had a long process to approve cannabis retailers, but this ordinance would undermine it since people would have no place to legally smoke cannabis they can buy in the city. Reduced cannabis sales also would mean less tax revenue for the city.

Supporting the Ban

The 11 anti-smoking public commenters cited their right not to have to breath in second-hand smoke, which can drift in through windows or cracks in walls, ceiling, etc. They pointed out the health risks connected to exposure to second-hand smoke, be it from tobacco or cannabis.

“[This ordinance] is about the right of people to live free from the dangers of second-hand smoke,” said resident Ann Goldman. “I should not have to pay for someone else’s freedom to smoke by endangering my own health.”

Resident Dan Wryglot is opposed to second-hand smoke in any form, regardless of whether people are smoking cannabis for medicinal purposes. “Your medicine makes me sick,” he said.

Resident Mikie Friedman, who serves on the city’s Disabilities Advisory Board, compared smokers who put other people’s heath at risk via second-hand smoke to people who refuse to wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic. She also compared smokers to Ed Buck, who is currently jailed awaiting trial for allegedly giving two men lethal overdoses of methamphetamine.

“Ed Buck did whatever he wanted in his apartment until it was discovered that he was killing people and then he had to be stopped,” said Friedman. “Well, people who smoke cigarettes are hurting and killing far more people than Ed Buck ever did. They may have the right to smoke, but they don’t have the right to spread their poison to their neighbors.”

Resident Rob Bergstein, who has spearheaded this apartment smoking ban, said the ordinance needed “more teeth” for enforcement. He also said if he had to smell a neighbor’s cannabis smoke, it would jeopardize his 32 years of sobriety.

Resident Marco Colantonio, who manages five apartment buildings in the city and is a City Council candidate in the November election, supported the ban, reporting the most frequent complaint from his tenants is about smoking.

Potential Evictions

The potential for tenant eviction for violating an apartment smoking ban was also raised. The city has large numbers of Russian-speaking residents, LGBT people and seniors, all populations that smoke tobacco in greater numbers than the general population (about 20% of LGBT people smoke tobacco while only 10% of the general population in California smokes).

In 2011, the city declaring smoking not to be a nuisance, thereby eliminating the possibility that smoking could be grounds for eviction. However, Councilmember John Duran wondered, if someone declared his or her unit non-smoking then later developed cancer and wanted to smoke marijuana as part of the treatment, would that be grounds for eviction under the ordinance being considered?

Danny Rivas, the city’s code compliance manager, explained that once a unit is declared non-smoking, that declaration would be irrevocable. Therefore, under the scenario Duran presented, a person smoking cannabis for medicinal reasons could be evicted.

Several anti-smoking activists said people could still consume cannabis in edible forms such as cookies or candies. However, the cannabis activists pointed out that people with nausea from cancer treatments cannot hold the edibles down and therefore need to smoke the cannabis.

Duran also questioned if any of the city’s cannabis shops were contacted for their input since this ordinance has the potential to affect their sales and the city’s tax revenue. Rivas reported the city had done no outreach to areas businesses.

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Bill G Skywatcher
Bill G Skywatcher
1 month ago

It just seems so fascist – an abuse of power by government. Life is tough enough right now, we don’t need the city council putting the screws to people who are trying to make it through these difficult times. The rising tide of puritanism in West Hollywood is a massive repudiation of the liberal, tolerant, creative society that served as the reason for founding our city. Besides, the city just spent how much money and time on establishing medical and recreational marijuana legality and policies, and this “ban” is going to absolutely crater the market we just spent so much… Read more »

hopeful
hopeful
1 month ago

How will the proposed smoking bans be enforced? I doubt that my long-term smoking neighbors will comply. Will they be arrested for smoking offenses?

James Francis
James Francis
1 month ago

Also as if what I said beforehand wasn’t reason enough, cigarettes have caused serious fires and Ruined peoples LIVES and HOMES! People fall asleep or drop a cigarette on lighter fluid and things go ablaze. So yes neighbors it has happened dozens of times in WEHO, where the smoker selfishly displaced other residents because of their poor decisions not to snuff a cigarette out so then extinguishers from fire fighters have to come and smash down doors, windows and roofs putting their lives in danger along with your neighbors. I rather live instead of being a burned corpse! Some of… Read more »

James Francis
James Francis
1 month ago

I am a lifelong Asthmatic and I had to pass on rent controlled units and affordable housing because the previous occupants smoked heavily. I could not live in the city until something came available because of my condition. It should not be the case for heavy cigarette and cigar and hookah smokers to have their smoke penetrate walls vents and airways that connect stairwells and windows. Most of these older apartments, one that I lived in on the east side, on Sierra Bonita Ave north of romaine ave was built in 1957. It had cracks due to earthquakes and the… Read more »

Gabe
Gabe
1 month ago

I’d be happy if they simply banned smoking in the middle of the night. My downstairs neighbor has his friends over late into the night and they chain smoke on his balcony at 2am. It is right below our bedroom and fills the room up with cigarette smoke and wakes us up. I do support the ban, but any sort of compromise like not smoking in the buildings late at night when neighbors can’t move to other rooms to avoid would be great.

Karen O'Keefe
Karen O'Keefe
1 month ago

Correction: Warnings are no longer required on coffee, though they were going to be due to the presence of acrylamide. Reversing course required litigation. https://www.consumerproductslawblog.com/2019/06/what-now-california-finalizes-prop-65-exemption-for-coffee/

https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/general-info/acrylamide

Should our neighbors — and restaurants — be prohibited from frying french fries, too? And painting their nails? (The fumes are hazardous.)

Vigilant
Vigilant
1 month ago
Reply to  Karen O'Keefe

Folks appreciate responsible behavior towards others and themselves.
Treat your body like the temple and incredible machine it is.
Consider thousands of years of successful treatment through Traditional Chinese Medicine embraced by some of the most forward thinking medical enterprises.
Invest in yourself, give yourself a chance to evolve and not become a life long consumer of this growing windfall for fast track cannabis pushers.

Art
Art
1 month ago

‘Resident Jason Beck, who uses cannabis to help treat his cerebral palsy, called the idea of a smoking ban “atrocious” and used the city’s support of LGBT rights as an analogy.’
To deprive humans of medication is inhumane. Cannabis and tobacco are NOT analogous. I will contribute to any class action lawsuit. If the state needs to separate the two, then that’s where the fight is!

Mike
Mike
1 month ago

I fully support the ban on smoking in apartment and condo buildings. It is the right thing to do, and no one wants to have to breathe in secondhand smoke. So many cities have already done this. We should be at the forefront of legislation like this and not trying to play catch-up. Absolutely NO ONE should have to breathe in secondhand smoke while at home in their own condo or apartment. It is time to enact this legislation, and if someone wants to smoke… then go outside and do it.

John Ryan
John Ryan
1 month ago

I have no problem making new buildings or newly vacated apartments smoke-free, but to impose a smoking ban on existing tenants is absurd. Laws prevent landlords from taking away a service or accommodation without compensation; why should the city be allowed to all of a sudden make such a dramatic change? Now you can smoke in your apartment, and then suddenly you can’t or you will be evicted? Seriously?

Smokefree
Smokefree
1 month ago
Reply to  John Ryan

John Ryan: Why should the city be allowed to make changes? Because smoking tobacco results in secondhand smoke, a Class A carcinogen – something that is proven beyond a doubt to kill – and since up to 65% of the air in apartment buildings is shared those who smoke in their own apartment are affecting the health and safety of others living in that building. That’s why!!

Bax
Bax
1 month ago

“This agenda item grants exclusive privilege to homeowners to smoke and vape marijuana while disenfranchising less financially well-off residents” Aren’t the disenfranchised the less financially well-off residents, that have to live in apartments and be exposed to toxic secondhand smoke and experience asthma, respiratory illness and infections, heart disease, stroke or even death from cancer. Do only the rich homeowners get the luxury of breathing safe air? “In 2011, the city declaring smoking not to be a nuisance” Come on, science. This is absurd, this needs to be overturned, and the 20 year career politician behind it voted out of… Read more »

nate
nate
1 month ago
Reply to  Bax

Bax. Exactly!!!! Today, everyone wants to argue that they’re are the victims – the true victims here are those who have to breath in the second hand smoke. I live in an apartment, and if my neighbors below me smoke, there second hand smoke will fill my apartment and linger for hours. I’m all about freedom of the people, as long as that freedom doesn’t hurt anyone else. In this situation, there so called “freedom” is literally killing other people!!!!

Long Time Resident
Long Time Resident
1 month ago
Reply to  nate

I am 65 years old. I grew up in a 2 parent who smoked household. They smoked in the car too. I am fine. My lungs are fine too. I smoked also (for over 40 years). This whole second-hand smoke argument is a bunch of hooey. My older brother is fine too (he is 72). He runs every day. His lungs are fine too.

Karen O'Keefe
Karen O'Keefe
1 month ago
Reply to  Bax

This is not true of cannabis. Despite large-scale studies where researchers expected a different result, scientists found FIRST HAND marijuana smoke doesn’t cause cancer or COPD. Given that first-hand marijuana smoke doesn’t cause these serious health ills, second hand smoke in another apartment surely does not either. Opponents cite compounds that they are present in cannabis smoke. If you torture caged animals by pumping vast quantities of chemicals in them, it can be toxic and carcinogenic. Hence the Prop 65 requires labels on everything from french fries to coffee. That doesn’t mean in a much lower concentration it is dangerous.… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
1 month ago
Reply to  Bax

You mean 36 year career politician.