Opinion: Smoking cannabis in multi-unit houses and in dispensaries should be banned

Berkeley currently prohibits smoking marijuana in parks and commercial districts but exempts apartment complexes. The City Council should direct the City Manager to change that.

Berkeley has an opportunity. As more and more communities try to accommodate the need for decriminalization and safe access to marijuana, they face decisions regarding how to respect all citizens’ right to clean, breathable air and the special hazards marijuana poses for underage populations.

The cannabis industry cannot be expected to have a clear perspective. The overwhelming promotions of marijuana products from manufacturers are everywhere, from coy ads in free newspapers to sticker campaigns at child’s height in local playgrounds.

The public health community has the most relevant experience and the most important advice for those who wish to comply with Proposition 64’s mandate to protect underage populations and those wishing to avoid exposure. The Cannabis Commission, on the other hand, is making recommendations which pay little attention to concerns about exposure and promotions to children.

It’s time for voters in Berkeley to communicate their concerns about clean air in their apartment buildings, bus stops, parks, and other public places to the Berkeley City Council to recommend to the City Manager that marijuana smoke, listed by the State of California’s Proposition 65 as a carcinogen along with tobacco smoke and benzene, be prohibited in multi-unit housing. The current exemption might have made sense years ago when edibles, oils, and patches were less available, but makes little sense today. The legally dubious decision our City Attorney has made to let the exemption stand, even in the light of Proposition 64’s redefinition of qualifications for medical use, threatens all of us who value clean air.

The Cannabis Commission’s focus, perhaps understandably, favors making access easy for citizens wishing to smoke or ingest marijuana for recreational or medical purposes. But despite smoking being currently prohibited in parks, playgrounds, and commercial districts, Berkeley citizens are constantly subjected to secondhand smoke of every kind in smoke-free locations. It is long past time for the Berkeley City Council to direct the City Manager’s attention to the fact that exposure issues are treated with very little gravity by a largely indifferent police department tasked with protecting the public from unwanted exposure.

Workers should never be exposed in their workplaces, including dispensaries. All workers, whether they use marijuana or not, have the right to control their exposure, and others who use marijuana for medical purposes should have the right to enter a dispensary without having their lungs assaulted by particulates or their bodies affected by active ingredients not intended for people who, for instance, need to safely drive.

Proposition 64 goes out of its way to insist that only people over 21 who agree to be personally exposed to the effects of marijuana get access to it. How that plays out in Berkeley is up to us, and should use science as its foundation, not hype from an industry with clear conflicts of interest.

Carol Denney is an East Bay writer and musician who successfully instituted smoke-free policies in music venues before California's protective smoke-free legislation was passed.