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Aug. 18, 2022

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New amendment would allow nonsmoking cannabis cafes in Oregon

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Jeremy Robbins broke his neck in a bicycle accident 20 years ago. He’s in a wheelchair and has been prescribed cannabis for chronic pain and spasms. The trouble is, he lives in public housing, which means he’s not allowed to smoke his medicine at home.
Jeremy Robbins broke his neck in a bicycle accident 20 years ago. He’s in a wheelchair and has been prescribed cannabis for chronic pain and spasms. The trouble is, he lives in public housing, which means he’s not allowed to smoke his medicine at home. Oregon State Legislature Photo Gallery

PORTLAND — Jeremy Robbins broke his neck in a bicycle accident 20 years ago. He’s in a wheelchair and has been prescribed cannabis for chronic pain and spasms.

The trouble is, he lives in public housing, which means he’s not allowed to smoke his medicine at home.

“I just don’t understand how come there isn’t a space provided where me and a lot of other folks like me can go, and we can imbibe in this medicine and also have a community where we can support each other,” Robbins said.

He told a public hearing in Salem last week that the state is being inconsistent — allowing bars all over the place but not cannabis cafes.

Oregon cannabis businesses are trying to normalize the use of their product with Senate Bill 639 in Salem this session.

The initial effort would have allowed customers to consume cannabis at Oregon cafes including by smoking it, but that is already changing.

The push to allow cannabis consumption has come from marijuana patients, like Robbins, as well as businesses interested in filling a niche.

Buying cannabis has been legal in Oregon for years now. But unless a consumer owns their own home, there’s hardly anywhere legal to smoke it.

Not in a park, not on a public street and not in most rental housing.

Sara Kemple manages The Dispensary on 52nd, a cannabis shop in Southeast Portland. She said tourists come to Oregon to try marijuana and leave sadly disappointed.

“And some people didn’t know that they weren’t able to smoke in the hotels, and some people were just smoking in the street and they get yelled at for that. So there isn’t really anywhere for people to smoke,” said Kemple.

She said some tourists end up just smoking in their hotel rooms and then paying the no-smoking fine.

Kemple says the original plans for her business involved a cafe — so people could buy marijuana and enjoy it on site. The building’s still plumbed for an espresso machine. So if the law changes, she’s ready.

“At some point, we want to offer you know drinks in the front. And we’re going to have like seating tables outside. We want to have that kind of casual environment. We’re going to try and get food trucks outside, and then maybe offer CBD infused drinks. Obviously not psychoactive things yet. But if we could, we would definitely go that route,” said Kemple.

She thinks allowing customers to smoke cannabis on site would boost the bottom line.

“I mean, I definitely think it would increase our business. Probably maybe even triple or five times our business.”

Supporters are hoping to keep options open for businesses like The Dispensary on 52nd while responding to concerns about indoor air quality. Sam Chapman of the New Revenue Coalition says the group is offering an amendment to Senate Bill 6-39, which would limit what customers could consume inside cafes to noncombustible products — like edibles and tinctures.

Chapman says they’d have to go outside to smoke.

“It would be in an enclosed area, outside, out of view of the public where only people 21 and older could access,” said Chapman.

Lawmakers at a public hearing in February balked at the idea of carving out an exception to the Indoor Clean Air Act for cannabis cafes.

The cafes would give tourists and other cannabis consumers a legal place to get together and smoke.

The cafes also promise to significantly increase tax revenues.

Supporters will now wait to see if the amendment is enough to convince lawmakers to continue fighting for cannabis cafes.

The cannabis industry is so new and in such turmoil that few people realized there is already a place where people get together to smoke cannabis.

It’s called the NW Cannabis Club, and it’s in southeast Portland.

Owner Mike Keysor said he doesn’t support the bill to make cannabis cafes legal, even in its original form, which could’ve eased rules on his own club. That’s mainly because he thinks the government places too many restrictions on the business.

“You know if you’re going to support cafes and clubs, let them sell the product. Let them sell by the dab, by the joint, by the bowl. Let them serve food. Let them have a chance to live,” Keysor said.

“Otherwise it’s all lip service.”

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