Oregon Marijuana Business Groups Push to Allow Consumption in Public Venues

After the passage of Measure 91 and the beginning of early retail sales, the recreational marijuana market is booming, according to industry leaders, who told GoLocal last month that sales have doubled since stores could begin selling to the general public. Now, marijuana business groups are pushing for more growth by allowing business owners to let customers consume marijuana inside their walls.

Currently, Oregonians can only smoke marijuana while on private property. In October, Sgt. Peter Simpson, with the Portland Bureau of Police, told GoLocal that patrol officers will still be on the lookout for those who smoke in public places, such as parks, streets or outside bars or restaurants.

Casey Houlihan, Director of the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association, told GoLocal that while there is no law explicitly forbidding a so-called “cannabis club,” which allows customers to consume marijuana in a bar or coffee shop style setting, he would like to see regulation that would allow those businesses to flourish

“There’s nothing explicitly illegal about it right now,” Houlihan said of entrepreneurs that may be interested in opening such a spot. “What we need is regulation, though, so we can see the way these businesses should operate and how they can succeed.”

“The Next Step in Normalization”

Houlihan said that allowing businesses focused around the consumption of marijuana are not unprecedented, citing the popular existence of bars and cigar lounges.

“This is the next step in normalization for the industry,” Houlihan said. “There are businesses that allow you to come and consume alcohol or tobacco, and now that it is a recreationally legal product, people should be able to do the same with cannabis.”

Donald Morse, Director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, agreed.

“People want to be able to go and enjoy cannabis around like-minded people like you can do at a bar,” Morse told GoLocal. “There’s also plenty of precedent for it with cigar lounges, where people can sit together and enjoy a cigar.”

Medical marijuana patient Mayana Bonaparte agreed that marijuana coffee shops should be accepted as part of the culture surrounding the legalized substance.

“Politics are such a big part of this,” Bonaparte said. “As you wouldn’t want an abortion clinic in a neighborhood with a lot of churches, you wouldn’t want a marijuana coffee shop in a conservative city. Portland is the most liberal pocket of Oregon, so it would be a great place to experiment.”

An Economic Boon?

Houlihan said he believes that allowing cannabis-consumption businesses such as cannabis cafes would bring increased revenues and jobs. He cited the performance of a few cannabis cafes that were already in operation, such as Portland’s World Famous Cannabis Cafe.

“The businesses that are operating this way already, I believe, are doing fairly well,” Houlihan said. “I think this could be something that would go hand-in-hand with what we’ve seen from increased marijuana sales.”

Bonaparte agreed.

“I could definitely see Portland being the most viable city for Amsterdam-type coffee shops,” Bonaparte said. “Marijuana is much healthier for people and the environment than substances we do use in public like alcohol or tobacco.”

Morse begged to differ. He said that he sees cannabis cafes achieving local success and that the Portland metro area could support “maybe five or seven different clubs in different parts of the city and the area.” He did not, however, believe that cannabis clubs would be come big business.

“I think it’s going to be a neighborhood thing,” Morse said. “It won’t be that there are big companies or chains doing this. It will be a local place, a place that people in the area know of and can visit when they’d like to enjoy cannabis with other, like-minded people.”

November 20, 2015

Brendan Murray, GoLocalPDX Contributor

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