City Officials Consider Indoor Smoking Ban for San Francisco

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The legislation, introduced by outgoing Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, would prohibit people from smoking cannabis or tobacco in their apartments.

Something doesn’t smell right in San Francisco.

In this case, the issue appears to be smoke. To be more specific, the issue at hand has to do with one’s right to ingest smoke or vapor from the comfort of home.

As a reminder, current law prohibits the consumption of cannabis — which is legal to purchase and use — in public in the state of California. That means, technically-speaking, you can’t spark a joint anywhere but on your own private property without running the risk of arrest. In practice, such laws tend to disproportionately impact people of color.

Even applied without prejudice, these rules mean the only place you can safely (from a legal standpoint) consume cannabis is at a designated consumption lounge or on private property. Given the vast majority of those fortunate enough to have a home certainly have no additional property to speak of, what all of this really boils down to is a defacto rule telling people to toke at home.

And now Norman Yee — outgoing president for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors — has proposed legislation which would eliminate that option too.

On November 12, Joshua Sabatini of the San Francisco Examiner reported that Yee, who has hit his term limit and will vacate his seat in January, is making the indoor smoking ban one of his final pieces of legislation before departing.

Given the immediate opposition that’s risen in response to Yee’s proposed ban, one can begin to see why he perhaps decided to wait until he had one foot out the door to try and get this approved.

The specifics of what Yee’s proposing would outlaw smoking and vaping in apartment buildings of three or more units. Citing concerns about secondhand smoke, Yee shared with his fellow supervisors (the board has eleven, including the president, in total) that he’d been inspired to introduce the ban after hearing from a young mother who called his office.

But, as Sabatini reports, some of the board — including Supervisor Rafael Mandelman — voiced concerns because the ban doesn’t fully exempt cannabis use.

“One amendment made by Yee,” explains Sabatini, “would exempt cannabis smoking for those who obtain a recommendation from their doctor to smoke medicinal cannabis for medical purposes. But Mandelman said many people no longer get medical proof, such as medical cannabis cards, because cannabis is now legal for adult use. He suggested a blanket exemption for cannabis smoke.”

By granting a blanket exception, Yee’s ban would apply to tobacco but not to cannabis. As of now, however, should the legislation pass, only those with a doctor’s recommendation – something one is not required to possess to legally purchase or consume recreational weed in San Francisco – would be allowed to toke indoors.

Yes, the ban only applies to those in apartment buildings with at least three units, but remember: this is San Francisco. Phrased another way, a huge percentage of San Franciscans live in apartments. And, should this ban pass, all of them would literally have nowhere (aside from consumption lounges, which are currently closed due to Covid-19) to smoke.

That’s why organizations like California NORML are looking to intervene.

“For over forty years,” noted California NORML director Dale Gieringer in a letter to the Board of Supervisors in response to Yee’s proposed ban, “San Francisco has been a beacon of tolerance for marijuana users. To trash this tradition now is an insult to countless long-term marijuana-using renters who can’t afford their own homes.”

The issue, in short, is a false equivalency that lumps cannabis together with tobacco products. Sup. Mandelman spotlighted this problem during the Committee’s November meeting, as the Examiner reported.

“For folks who do not have a medical cannabis card, there are very few places outside their own home where you can consume cannabis,” Mandelman said. “It is not parallel to cigarettes in that way. Cigarettes, there are still places where smokers can go and smoke. That is not so much the case for cannabis smokers.”

Cal NORML’s release also stressed the scientific disparities between secondhand tobacco smoke and secondhand cannabis smoke.

“Not a single human study has found second-hand cannabis smoke or vaping to be harmful to health,” they state. “Unlike tobacco, first-hand cannabis smoking has been shown not to cause lung cancer or cardiovascular disease. Second-hand exposure from neighboring apartments is all the less likely to be harmful. Vaporizers are safer yet, since they eliminate some 95% to 99+% of smoke toxins.”

Following the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee’s vote to send the legislation to the full board for a vote next month — which was done without a recommendation for approval, it should be noted — Cal NORML is now encouraging those who wish to register their opposition to the ban to send letters to each supervisor via an Action Network letter-writing tool they’ve created.

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