Lawmaker working on bill to allow legal pot cafés in Oregon

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If you buy recreational marijuana at a pot dispensary in Oregon finding a place to smoke it legally can be a challenge, especially if you don't own your own home.

Supporters of a new proposal to allow marijuana cafés in the state say the current law also has racial implications.

Opponents of the plan say it's a public safety issue.

The group Portland for Positive Impact points out marijuana is an intoxicant that impairs your ability to drive. The group also echoes concerns from state health authorities about the negative effects of second-hand smoke.

Lighting up a joint in your backyard is legal in Oregon If you're at least 21 years old and you own the home and the backyard.

But if you rent your home like nearly 40 percent of people in the state, your landlord can ban you from using marijuana on the property. And you're not allowed to smoke weed in public places.

"There is literally no place for me to consume," Jeannette Horton, the executive director of NuLeaf Project in Northeast Portland, told KATU on Tuesday. "(It's) an organization focused on increasing the number of cannabis businesses owned by people of color."

She supports an effort by a group called the New Revenue Coalition, which says it's working with state Sen Lew Frederick, D-Portland, on legislation that would make pot cafés legal, allowing smokers to light up without fear of breaking the law.

"It's really important for the issue of cannabis decriminalization specifically for people of color," said Horton. "You can purchase it, but you can't light it up so you're still in a position where people are at risk for arrest."

Dr. Tom Jeanne, the deputy health officer for Oregon's Public Health Division, has doubts about the plan.

He told KATU the agency and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) don't usually take positions on proposed legislation but said, "Our responsibility is to ensure a safe, healthy environment for all Oregonians."

Jeanne said OHA does that in part by enforcing Oregon's Indoor Clean Air Act, which bans smoking and vaping of tobacco, nicotine and cannabis in most public places and workplaces.

Jeanne said from 2015 when recreational marijuana sales became legal in Oregon, to 2016, the percentage of young adults age 18 to 24 who used cannabis nearly doubled from about 15 percent in 2015 to about 28 percent in 2016.

"Cannabis smoke has many of the same cancer causing chemicals as tobacco smoke, so it's really a health equity issue on on on that side as well," Jeanne said.

Horton points out researchers say marijuana is generally far safer than tobacco and alcohol in terms of the risk from typical recreational use and that marijuana smoke and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic.

The American Lung Association says:

"Smoking marijuana clearly damages the human lung, and regular use leads to chronic bronchitis and can cause an immune-compromised person to be more susceptible to lung infections. No one should be exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke. Due to the risks it poses to lung health, the American Lung Association strongly cautions the public against smoking marijuana as well as tobacco products. More research is needed into the effects of marijuana on health, especially lung health."

Certain cigar bars and hookah lounges that opened years ago are allowed in Oregon but under state law you can't open any new ones.

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