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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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California cannabis lounge bill heads to state Senate

Last year Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar bill over concerns about secondhand smoke.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A bill wafting its way through the California Legislature would allow cannabis lounges to sell food and non-alcoholic beverages, if it can reach the governor’s desk and get signed.

Assembly Bill 1775 — authored by Assemblymember Matt Haney, a San Francisco Democrat — passed the state Senate’s Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee on Monday. It now advances to the Senate floor.

The bill is a repeat for Haney, who last year wrote a similar bill that would have done the same thing. That bill was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom and Haney has since added amendments to his current legislation to ensure separation between cannabis consumption and food areas in lounges. The revisions would also allow such businesses to sell tickets to events like music performances.

“This bill does not legalize consumption lounges,” Haney said, noting his bill would augment what existing lounges can serve.

Local governments can allow cannabis lounges, where people can consume the product on site. However, such businesses are currently limited in what they can sell. While they can offer pre-packaged food and drink — if the local government allows it — on-site preparation is prohibited.

One reason Haney wants that changed is because the legal market is struggling. Pam Lopez, speaking on behalf California’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said Haney’s bill would heighten a consumer’s experience. She called it a simple quality-of-life improvement for people who use cannabis.

“Cannabis lounges are so incredibly important for urban communities,” Lopez added, saying that with loneliness at an all-time high, a communal space where people can consume cannabis together is needed.

Kristin Heidelbach, representing the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, piggybacked off that argument, saying the change would also help keep people using cannabis out of public spaces. She called the bill a lifeline for struggling businesses.

Opponents of the bill pointed to the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Kesa Bruce, with the American Lung Association in California, said Haney’s bill circumvents the state’s existing laws that protect people from secondhand smoke. Employees of cannabis businesses have the same protections from that smoke as any other employee.

Additionally, Bruce pointed to Newsom’s statement when he vetoed Haney’s prior bill, noting that he was concerned over smoke in the workplace.

Suzaynn Schick, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, studies how air pollution affects people’s health, specifically how tobacco and cannabis smoke can lead to heart and lung disease. She referred to the air quality index, which measures air quality and can grow dangerous when large fires emit smoke.

According to Schick, secondhand smoke can push a small area’s air quality off the charts.

State Senator Richard Roth, a Riverside Democrat, said he’s concerned about the effects of smoke. However, he noted that Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot measure that legalized adult marijuana use in California, specifically authorizes areas like cannabis lounges. If people don’t want to breathe secondhand smoke, he said, they don’t have to visit them.

State Senator Roger Niello, a Fair Oaks Republican, said he opposed Proposition 64. He called it “terribly flawed” and weak, which has enabled the illegal market to persist.

Despite his frustration, he said he’d support Haney’s bill, as he wants to help the legal cannabis businesses that are hurting.

“The illegal market is winning the game,” Niello said.

A handful of local governments have allowed cannabis lounges, including those in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and Weed. Authors of a bill analysis pointed to West Hollywood as a leader in the field. In 2017, the city passed an ordinance allowing two different types of lounges: one that allows edible cannabis only and the other which allows edibles as well as smoking and vaping.

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