The Columbian / Associated Press

Cannabis Cafe to close over Oregon clean-air rules

PORTLAND — The owner of the World Famous Cannabis Cafe announced she will close her doors next week after another warning by public health officials that the establishment violates indoor air rules.

The cafe will host its final Stoner Bingo session March 7, said Madeline Martinez, a longtime marijuana legalization advocate and owner of the business, which offers people 21 and older a place to socialize and use cannabis.

She doesn’t want to face fines for violating the law, she said.

The decision follows an unannounced visit last week by Erik Vidstrand, a Multnomah County tobacco program specialist, to the Southeast Foster Road cafe, Martinez said. Vidstrand pointed out ashtrays and remnants of smoked joints and reminded her that smoking is not allowed in the cafe under state law, she said.

“I told them they are infringing on my constitutional rights,” said Martinez, whose patrons must bring their own marijuana to consume at the club. “I have a right to gather peacefully. That is what I am exercising. They are very concerned about the toxicity (of cannabis smoke), which is ridiculous.”

Lawmakers expanded Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act last year to prohibit the use of devices such as vaporizer pens and e-cigarettes in public areas and workplaces. Marijuana was also added to the law, which initially targeted only tobacco.

The indoor clean air law includes exemptions for two types of businesses: cigar bars, where patrons may smoke cigars, and smoke shops, where tobacco consumption is allowed. Both kinds of businesses must be certified by the state.

Oregon is home to a small number of cannabis clubs where people generally pay a membership fee to smoke, dab and vape the drug in a social setting. Another Southeast Portland club, the Other Spot, closed recently over concerns about the clean air provisions.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, introduced an amendment during the Legislature’s 35-day session that would have exempted cannabis cafes from the clean air law, but it did not have enough support to pass.

Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, said she heard from public health advocates and local government officials who worry about exempting pot clubs from clean air rules. Lininger serves as co-chair of the joint legislative committee on the implementation of marijuana legalization.

The Coalition of Local Health Officials did not take a position on the amendment but submitted testimony to the joint committee detailing its concerns about efforts to weaken the clean air law.

“We are concerned about the potential air quality in these proposed cannabis cafes,” the testimony states.

The Oregon Health Authority also submitted testimony spelling out its concerns about cannabis cafes and a potential increase in youth use of marijuana. The agency compared the establishments to hookah lounges, which “led to a marked increase in youth use of hookah in counties where hookah lounges were located.”

Lininger said the current short session, which is winding down, didn’t offer enough time to work on the issue. She said she’s open to reviving the issue next year.

“I think the idea of cannabis cafes makes sense, especially if we allow cigar bars, but the concerns of public health advocates are real,” she said. “We need to make sure that if we allow the creation of cannabis cafes we do it in a way that is safe for workers and that is going to require some careful thought and discussion among people who care about the issue.”

Martinez said she plans to shift her focus to lobbying for a change to the clean air statute in 2017.