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Home is where the hemp is?

Cannabis is often utilized as a medicine, and people need a place to consume this medicine. Before legalization all use was sanctioned as medical use. Most cannabis users had the comfort of their own homes to consume what they needed. Then local smoking bans started to be enacted eliminating this safe haven. Intended to prohibit tobacco smoking in people’s homes, it had the potential to eliminate medical cannabis smoking and vaping as well.

While there is no local jurisdiction that prohibits smoking inside single family residences, multi-unit housing such as apartments, condos, and townhouses fall under those bans. There is a designated location for all smoking outside. When cannabis use falls under this smoking ban the most accessible and private place for people to consume their medical cannabis is eliminated.

The push for fair and equal housing and the push for legal, regulated cannabis both come down to a similar principle of access to essentials. People need affordable, equitable housing, just as those who find therapeutic relief utilizing medical cannabis need a safe and accessible space to consume it. Multi-unit housing is utilized by many low-income people on federal housing assistance programs. Cannabis is illegal at the federal level. Housing assistance could be in jeopardy for a medical cannabis patient on federal assistance. This creates a catch 22.

It is crucial that adults in multi-density developments have the same access to safe places to consume medical cannabis as those in single family homes. They do not; hence the interconnectedness of safe access to medical cannabis and fair and equal housing is born.

There are many people and organizations who have pushed for cannabis policy that looks out for the needs of patients. Sarah Shrader from the Sonoma County Chapter of Americans for Safe Access has done incredible work for the medical cannabis movement and was a consistent advocate for smoking bans to exempt medical cannabis use. Other early advocacy groups like the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana also spearheaded these types of compassionate efforts.

Thankfully, Sonoma County had (and has) numerous local elected officials ready to defend those who need medical cannabis access. For example, Santa Rosa was finalizing and enacting a local smoking and vaping ban in multi-unit housing in 2015. A number of us saw the way cannabis would be adversely affected by this ban, and I engaged with Councilmember Chris Coursey (now a county supervisor) to advocate for an exemption. After determining the presence of odor from vaping cannabis was essentially indetectable, he advocated for a medical cannabis vaping (not smoking) exception, which passed with the council’s support.

Cannabis is legalized to be used recreationally yet the only places that consumption is sanctioned is at special events or one’s home. Where else can people in multi-use housing go to benefit from what they are allowed to consume per state law?

One option that is gaining traction here in Sonoma County is on-site cannabis consumption lounges. These are regulated, accessible spaces that allow for people to buy and consume their cannabis in a safe and controlled environment. Thankfully, local planning commissions and city councils are starting to permit on site consumption lounges in places like Santa Rosa, opening up a whole new side of regulated cannabis. In fact, the City of Cotati’s Planning Commission did just that on March 21 of this year!

Craig Litwin was a top signature gatherer for Prop 215, served as mayor of Sebastopol where he co-author one of the nation’s first dispensary ordinances. He is the CEO of 421 Group, an international cannabis consultancy with a HQ in Sebastopol, and a co-creator of Resourcery; a Sebastopol permitted and state licensed cannabis oil extractor, tincture and salve maker, and distributor.

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