Opinion: West Hollywood, a Cannabis Refuge, Must Not Become a Bastion of Prohibition

When my husband and I made West Hollywood our home nine years ago, a key reason was the city’s commitment to sensible cannabis policy. We never imagined a day could come when we might consider leaving West Hollywood because it enacted draconian cannabis laws.

In the early 2000s, while the federal government targeted medical cannabis patients and dispensaries, West Hollywood defiantly stood up for them. The city even loaned the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center $350,000 to buy its location, which was later targeted for federal civil asset forfeiture action.

And five years after making the Creative City our home, my husband Mark and I joined 83% of West Hollywood voters in approving Prop. 64, legalizing marijuana in California.

Mark has chronic pain, and we’ve long worried about the well-documented risks of long-term use of painkillers. Once lab-testing regulations took effect, he began trying various cannabis products and found a particular strain of smoked cannabis works best.

But now, to our shock, the City Council is considering banning the medicine that brings him such relief. On Aug. 3, the City Council took up a ban on smoked and vaporized cannabis in multi-unit housing, which applies to 85% of the city’s residents, including us. A first offense would result in the cannabis smoker paying at least $100, with higher minimums for subsequent offenses within a year.

Many renters are already struggling. During a pandemic that has left many out of work, those penalties could be devastating.

In California, it’s illegal to smoke cannabis in public except at cannabis cafes, which are currently closed due to COVID and are too costly for regular use. So, the West Hollywood smoking ban would function as a complete prohibition of cannabis smoking and vaping for everyone but those wealthy enough to live in a single-family home.

The cannabis ban was shoehorned into a ban on smoking tobacco and e-cigarettes in multi-unit housing. While cannabis has not been shown to have any overall impact on consumers’ all-cause mortality, tobacco kills an estimated 480,000 Americans per year. Our city should know better than to buy into this “reefer madness.”

An extensive study at UCLA not only failed to find any link between cannabis smoking and lung cancer, but also, cannabis was linked to a slight decrease in risk. It also has not been shown to cause COPD.

City staff mistakenly believe state law requires West Hollywood to ban cannabis smoking anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. However, attorney Tamar Todd, who wrote the relevant section of Prop. 64, explained this is not the case and is in fact counter to the letter and intent of the law. Moreover, such a ban may violate Prop. 215 — the state’s voter-enacted medical marijuana law.

Those who support the cannabis ban say individuals can simply use cannabis edibles. But edibles don’t work as well for many symptoms, including my husband’s pain. Flower cannabis has more than 80 cannabinoids that may be beneficial, while edibles typically have one or two. Inhalation allows the consumer to use precisely the dosage they need, and it brings near-immediate relief. Edibles can take a half-hour or longer to take effect — far too late for those needing immediate relief from spasms, oncoming seizures, and pain. For nausea and wasting disorders, edibles are an impractical option. Edibles are also far easier to overconsume, leading to scary experiences in many novice users.

While I strongly oppose a ban on smoking or vaping cannabis in private homes, and believe the risks to people in other units is virtually non-existent, I’m sympathetic to those with serious lung conditions and those who might find the smell of cannabis challenging to their sobriety. I encourage cannabis consumers to be good neighbors. If you have a neighbor with serious health issues, consider moving to a different room or area to smoke, putting a towel under doors, or otherwise reducing exposure.

I would also love to see our city step in to assist individuals needing accommodations for their disability in this regard. A number of units in West Hollywood are already smoke-free. Perhaps landlords could be given incentives or compensation to move tenants to units surrounded by smoke-free ones and/or to install air purifiers in their units.

We are the “Creative City,” after all. Let’s get creative.

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James Francis
James Francis
2 months ago

I am a severe asthmatic and smoke travels through thin and thick walls, windows stairwells and hallways and most of all vents and heaters attached to walls that carry smoke through other apartments in a building! There has to be a law that the city implement. Otherwise all groups will seek injunctions and dictate to the city based on selfish or individual needs to smoke cigarettes and cigars and vape pens that the county saw was affecting the health of teenagers and children in school exposed to the smoke. We cannot be compelled to smell and breathe toxic smoke or… Read more »

sasha
sasha
2 months ago

a practical compromise might be allow liquid vape and heat-not-burn vape, but not combustion. i sometimes smoke tobacco and weed but when i’m not doing it i’m bothered by the smell. smoke is an irritant.

i see people smoke both in the streets or in public. let’s allow that as a matter of practicality and consideration for our neighbors.

Bill Skywatcher
Bill Skywatcher
2 months ago

Maybe instead of The Creative City, we should call ourselves the Draconian City, because this wave of Puritanism is directly counter to the independence, tolerance, and freedom that caused West Hollywood to become a city in the first place. But as far as edibles go, they are NOT a substitute for smoking or vaping. Edibles take longer for the body to metabolize than smoking so that people who use it for pain or sleeping at night often find themselves still high the next morning when then need to be sharp for work. How can the city turn its back on… Read more »

Glenn
Glenn
2 months ago

Ok. So just put more toxicity in the air?

JF1
JF1
2 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

Yup! For a community so concerned about the environment. (Eyeroll)

Cooper
Cooper
2 months ago

Cannabis is not the issue, it’s 2nd hand smoke.
Take an edible.

JF1
JF1
2 months ago
Reply to  Cooper

Exactly. Problem solved.

Jim Nasium
Jim Nasium
2 months ago

The author is director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. Well that explains a lot.

Jim McDonald
2 months ago

While I absolutely agree with the author that a ban on cannabis use is unreasonable, I was very sorry to see her justify her opposition to one unjust prohibition by promoting another. It is cigarette smoking — not nicotine vaping — that kills 480,000 Americans every year. Vaping tobacco-free nicotine e-liquid is an effective harm reduction practice for smokers, strongly supported in the United Kingdom by Public Health England, the Royal College of Physicians and Cancer Research UK. In the United States, millions of vapers who have quit smoking face an onslaught of restrictions and bans on the products that… Read more »

Karen O'Keefe
Karen O'Keefe
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim McDonald

I didn’t opine on the validity of banning nicotine vaping.

I said, “The cannabis ban was shoehorned into a ban on smoking tobacco and e-cigarettes in multi-unit housing. While cannabis has not been shown to have any overall impact on consumers’ all-cause mortality, tobacco kills an estimated 480,000 Americans per year.”

As you note, nicotine vaping is not tobacco.

It would’ve been a digression and outside both my personal experience and professional expertise to get into nicotine vaping. You may want to write your own op-ed on that.

Jim McDonald
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen O'Keefe

Thanks for responding. I would just ask that in the future you say that SMOKING (not nicotine or tobacco) kills 480,000 Americans. It is truly the combustion that kills.

David
David
2 months ago

Most people who smoke pot do it to get high. In most cases getting high is the only reason people use it. If the the majority of intended users are using to alter their mood, it’s no different than any other recreational drug. I use this as a litmus test. Legalization shoud have never happened. With alcohol, it’s not a given that you’re using it to alter your mood. A lot of people have a glass of wine with their meal or a beer at a bar without intent to get hammered. And no, smoking anything probably isn’t good for… Read more »

Karen O'Keefe
Karen O'Keefe
2 months ago
Reply to  David

David, You claim, “Most people who smoke pot do it to get high.” Actual research show the opposite. Before any state had legal, adult-use cannabis Pew found that — of those that smoked cannabis — 53% used cannabis either partly or wholly for medical purposes. (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/04/17/marijuana-use-increased-over-the-last-decade/) In Denver, a recent survey of 1,000 adult-use (not medical) cannabis users found that 65% used cannabis for pain relief and and 74% did so for sleep. (“Use of Cannabis to Relieve Pain and Promote Sleep by Customers at an Adult Use Dispensary,” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Volume 51, 2019.) Many studies that have shown… Read more »

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen O'Keefe

It is offensive to read the commentary of people who dismiss the physical and and mental health benefits that many of us have found through cannabis and related products. Part of WeHo’s problem is that it has long sought to create a town of cul de sacs in the middle of a major metropolitan area.

David
David
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

Excuses.

Observer
Observer
2 months ago
Reply to  David

And living in LA County isn’t healthy either with its toxic air. If you have a vehicle and it’s not zero emissions, then you are part of the problem.

Karen O'Keefe
Karen O'Keefe
2 months ago
Reply to  Observer

Indeed, though even zero emissions vehicles are a significant part of the problem: have of the particulate matter pollution is from road wear, tires, and brakes. So, driving or riding in any automobiles is contributing to toxic air.

And air pollutions’ negative health impact on health has been proven, unlike second-hand cannabis smoke.

See: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-48944561

Karen O'Keefe
Karen O'Keefe
2 months ago
Reply to  Observer

Correcting a typo in my most recent comment: HALF of all the particulate matter from cars is if from tires, brakes, and road tear.

JF1
JF1
2 months ago

I don’t care what you do or where you do it so long as it doesn’t affect me. Second hand smoke is harmful and I shouldn’t be made to breathe it in or smell it. Period.

Karen O'Keefe
Karen O'Keefe
2 months ago
Reply to  JF1

No study has shown a negative public health impact from second-hand cannabis smoke, much less in a separate unit. As I noted, even first-hand cannabis smoke hasn’t been shown to cause lung cancer or COPD.

There was actually a slight negative association between lung cancer and cannabis smoking in a huge, case controlled study at UCLA. Like you, the researcher (Dr. Donald Tashkin) had hypothesized he would find the opposite result. Science showed otherwise.

JF1
JF1
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen O'Keefe

Listen, I’m not going to debate “your science“ against my science. Fact of the matter is we all know that if smoking is allowed inside a person’s unit they will leave the windows open and then I won’t be able to leave my windows open because I’ll smell the stench. This is just one of the many problems that we knew were going to occur once we legalized this. Just after we got smoking under control now we have to deal with a whole new problem. As a city, we need a new change of leadership.

Rob Bergestein
Rob Bergestein
2 months ago
Reply to  JF1

thank you JF1, that is the core issue. No one is saying anyone can’t smoke, we’re just saying if you do so, don’t expose your neighbors to secondhand smoke. It’s that simple. Your choice to smoke should not be allowed to negatively impact my health or the health of any non-smoker.

Karen O'Keefe
Karen O'Keefe
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob Bergestein

This IS saying you can’t smoke cannabis. It’s illegal to smoke in public (other than cannabis cafes that are costly and closed), and this bans smoking and vaping cannabis in private homes. This ban isn’t contingent on anyone being harmed by the cannabis, or even smelling it. A landlord could see someone vaping cannabis, or a neighbor could see them smoking a bong in the window. It would still apply. This would completely take away the right to vape or smoke cannabis for the 85% of residents living in multi-family homes, even though it is a medicine for many. There… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
2 months ago

While I do believe that non-smoking tenants are entitled to protections from second hand smoke, from tobacco or marijuana, the City launched its’ “Smoke Free West Hollywood” campaign without making any particular effort to bring in advocates from all sides and alert the public about the process. Most of the people I have spoken with are incredulous that West Hollywood, which has celebrated and profited from recreational marijuana use would impose stringent limitations on its’ use. Predictably, when you engage in a public process whose goal is predetermined, many voices get excluded. This is a reflection on how City Hall… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
Rob Bergstein
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

Steve, the smoke free housing (I’m not aware of a smoke free West Hollywood” campaign) was organized by the Rent Stabilization Commission, with two meetings to discuss before it was voted on and sent to council. Each time I did public outreach on social media and Nextdoor. I spoke at council probably a half dozen times as it was approved as a council agenda item 3 years ago but it took a while to actually have it placed on an agenda. So it’s been on council agenda numerous times. Code compliance has spoken with/done outreach to both sides of the… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob Bergstein

Rob, you did a great job but I know how few people watch City Council meetings. I just saying there are ways of doing outreach to all concerned; we all get tons of mailed notices from the City and it would have been easy to conduct an on-line poll. Three years is a long time to have to consider the same issue. if outreach had been better the Council would not have been surprised by the sudden push back.

carleton cronin
2 months ago

Recalling humorist Will Cuppy’s ode to “Tobacco is a filthy weed – I love it!” during the furor over how smoking in apartment buildings was an incursion into the lives of non-smokers, I wondered then if such things as a “smoke free” building or a “smoke allowed” building would ever evolve as a means of pleasing most citizens. How naive of me. I forgot that “pleasing most” would leave out others whose views were – at the least – peculiar and noisy. While I am not a user of marijuana, I certainly accept that it is now quite common as… Read more »

Art
Art
2 months ago

So very well put Thank you!