Ordinance to make multi-unit housing in San Francisco (tobacco) smokefree advances

Today the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee unanimously forwarded an ordinance to the full Board of Supervisors (the City’s legislative body) to make buildings with 3 or more housing units smokefree.

The public commenters strongly supported the ordinance with cogent stories about how they and their families were suffering from secondhand smoke drifting in from other units in the building.

The hearing featured a strong presentation by the San Francisco Department of Public Health making the point that smoke is smoke, including e-cigarette aerosol and marijuana smoke and other forms of inhaled marijuana.

This is important because Board President Norman Yee, who was carrying the ordinance, amended it to exempt medical marijuana smoke.

This amendment drew universal criticism from a long list of public commenters, including the San Francisco Tobacco Free Coalition, Heart, Lung and Cancer associations, Breathe California and Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, as well as many members of the public who described the problems that secondhand marijuana smoke in their apartments was causing for them.

One apartment dweller made the cogent point that he had to take medicine every day that he had to mix with water, which he did for himself. He distinguished that from putting the medicine in the building water supply where others would then be exposed.

Many people — including me — made the point that there were alternative forms of delivering cannabis (such as edibles or oils) that did not pollute the air and harm bystanders. This is an important point because removing the exemption would not constitute a ban on cannabis use in people’s apartments, just the forms that pollute the air and potentially harm non-users.

I also told the supervisors about two new studies showing that people who smoke marijuana do worse after having a heart attack. This is exactly what one would expect based on research showing that, like tobacco, marijuana smoke compromises normal functioning of blood vessels and platelets.

Indeed, there was only one person who spoke in favor of the exemption for smoked medical cannabis and he only said that his wife “preferred” smoked to other forms. Thus, removing the amendment would still leave her free to use medical marijuana in her apartment; she would just have to use a form that did not put others at risk because of the secondhand smoke that she was creating. 

Because of the strong support for eliminating the smoked marijuana exemption, the Committee forwarded the measure to the full Board without a recommendation to allow further consideration of dropping the marijuana exemption when the bill is heard by the full Board on December 1.

By the way, I support marijuana legalization, but think that it be done in a way that prioritizes public health over business, as we do for tobacco. Unfortunately, so far, most places are not following tobacco best practices when legalizing marijuana. Removing the smoked marijuana exemption in the SF bill would be consistent with the approach of allowing informed adults to use marijuana so long as it was done in a way that did not infringe on the rights of others for clean air.

Fixing this problem now is important. We did research on how long weaknesses in smokefree legislation took to remedy and found that it took years to fix shortcomings.

In addition, the exemption is illegal. The state Adult Use of Marijuana Act allows cities to enact exemptions to smokefree laws for cannabis business establishments, which does not apply to multiunit housing.

Hopefully, the Board, which has a very strong record on health issues, will remove the smoked marijuana exemption before passing the otherwise strong ordinance.

You can watch the hearing here.

Published by Stanton Glantz

Stanton Glantz is a retired Professor of Medicine who served on the University of California San Francisco faculty for 45 years. He conducts research on tobacco and cannabis control and cardiovascular disease/

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