On Monday evening, West Hollywood’s City Council will argue an anti-smoking ordinance that would be a de facto cannabis smoking ban in new multi-family housing.
The ordinance would amend the municipal code to ban smoking in common areas and new units within multi-family dwellings. It would also start a registration program that requires the designation of a unit’s smoking status which would transition the city’s entire multi-family housing stock to non-smoking units.
Critics argue that the measure unfairly lumps cannabis in with tobacco, despite the fact cannabis has not been shown to cause lung cancer, heart disease, or other life-threatening illnesses. California NORML noted that in addition to the health data, cannabis can’t be consumed legally in public places.
CANORML is now urging West Hollywood residents and medical cannabis patients to contact the council and tell them to drop cannabis from the measure. They also argue the measure unfairly discriminates against disadvantaged and minority residents who can’t afford their own homes.
One of West Hollywood’s longtime cannabis champions is Councilmember John Duran. We reached out to get his take on the ordinance. He began by sharing with us with the impact it would have on the city’s legacy as the pioneering medical cannabis municipality in Southern California.
“I think this proposal is a complete devastation of all the work that we have done for decades on the issue of cannabis. I mean, weed has been up on the Sunset Strip for well over 100 years, right? And of course, the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center: the first medical marijuana collective in Southern California was established here in West Hollywood when I was legal counsel for the center with the Reverend Scott Imler,” Duran told L.A. Weekly.
The effort to kick off the WeHo medical scene would eventually lead to the only time the U.S. Government has used drug forfeiture laws against a municipality. West Hollywood bought the building the collective was housed in, and then it was hit in a wave of cannabis raids conducted by the Feds after 9/11.
Duran spoke of the four original operators that eventually led to the major permitting process of the last few years. “You know the four originals that are still in place, and then going through a multimillion-dollar process of getting people to apply for cannabis licenses and compete over a multi-year process to get one of the golden tickets for those licenses. All this work and efforts that we have been doing. We honored Cheech and Chong two years ago on the Sunset Strip with the key to the city for the humor and consciousness they brought to cannabis, all of that up in smoke, pardon the pun,” Duran said.
He called the proposed language of the anti-smoking ordinance “draconian” and “harmful” to West Hollywood’s values as a city.
“The city, I believe, is a place where we live and let live,” Duran said, “We have great tolerance for other people’s lifestyles. You can come here, you can be LGBT if you want, you can be a communist or a socialist if you want, you can be anything you want in this town. And that’s, that’s our core, the core at our very essence.”
Duran thinks proponents of the ordinance are attempting to connect health claims between tobacco and cannabis and in the process are forgetting what West Hollywood is all about.
“I think to disregard the city and its place in history and the legacy of work that you and I are talking about is so harmful to the city, Duran said, “It’s not that I don’t understand the public health arguments, I understand the public health arguments. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t smoke weed. I don’t do drugs. I don’t do any of that anymore.”
Those personal health choices brought Duran back to the core of his argument on the subject: “But I’m not gonna impose my lifestyle on other people who may choose to do any or all of those things. I mean that’s what’s at the core of West Hollywood, right? It’s an adult city, 5% of our population are children.”
West Hollywood’s Code Compliance Manager, Danny Rivas, explained the mechanism that would prevent even medical marijuana patients from smoking in multi-family dwellings if the ordinance passes in Section 11362.79 of the California Health and Safety Code.
We asked if the ordinance failed, would patients living in apartments still be good to go since there wouldn’t be any local anti-smoking regulations to interact with that part of the state’s health and safety code?
“That’s correct. Because the only time this state section would be incorporated or implemented would be on the passage of [the ordinance] because it would speak to subsection A of the section,” he replied, “and so once that occurs, then that’s when the state law kicks in and we would essentially address those issues as they occurred, but if it doesn’t pass, then yeah, you know, smoking cannabis, based off of the complaints that we’ve received and we’re just basing this of the information folks have provided us, based off that information I would assume it is occurring.”
Rivas said that right now, when people make a complaint of any kind regarding smoking, there is no recourse for the city: “There’s nothing that we can do. If they adopt it, then there would be something that we can do.”
Rivas explained that city staff added the issues that would arise for qualified patients in their report to the council, “because I think it’s an important point to bring to City Council’s attention, you know? In terms of saying, by adopting this, this would ultimately have an impact on qualified patients as listed in the section.”
Rivas states that there isn’t a mechanism for a municipality to carve out cannabis when it’s writing anti-smoking measures because of the way the state law is worded. He argues the state law could be changed in the future, “but you couldn’t just provide an exception that’s contrary to what’s written in state law.”