The Hazy History of Bill 625
In February of this year, Senator Jerry Hill of San Mateo introduced Senate Bill 625 to the California legislature. The legislation proposed allowing passengers, who are 21 years of age and over, to smoke or vape cannabis products in limousines and charter buses, provided that, among other things, the driver compartment is sealed off by some physical barrier and that the driver compartment and passenger compartment are separately ventilated. The California Cannabis Industry Association, of course, welcomed Bill 265 considering the rise of cannabis tourism in the state and the overwhelming passage of Prop 64.
Nonetheless, on September 12, California lawmakers sought to ban the consumption of cannabis products on charter buses and limousines. As a justification for the ban, Kevin Sabet, head of the anti-cannabis group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, argued that “today’s marijuana is super [strong] and highly potent” and, therefore, “[a]llowing use on party buses and limousines would have been dangerous and irresponsible.” Even Senator Hill, the Senator who introduced Bill 625, agreed to delay it. Hill’s reasoning for the delay – law enforcement and transportation experts need more time to figure out a way to ensure the marijuana smoke would not affect the drivers. Implicitly underpinning both Sabet’s and Hill’s rationale is the mistaken notion of “contact high” and/or second-hand cannabis exposure.
In 2015, John Hopkins University took to task the myth that is “contact high.” The university conducted a study to “examine the influence of room ventilation on secondhand exposure to cannabis smoke and…the effects of secondhand cannabis smoke exposure on behavioral/cognitive performance.” As to the influence of room ventilation on secondhand cannabis exposure, the study found “that ventilation dramatically reduces secondhand smoke exposure, even when large quantities of cannabis (~16.5 grams) are smoked in relatively small spaces in a short amount of time.” The study further found that “nonsmokers exposed under ventilated conditions reported no significant subjective effects and did not have impairment in cognitive performance.” On the other hand, in extreme unventilated conditions, the exposure to secondhand cannabis smoke caused minor, yet detectible, impairments. A driver’s compartment in a party bus or limousine, separated by a physical barrier and with a separate ventilation system does not, in the slightest, constitute an extremely unventilated condition that would result in a minor impairment.
As previously mentioned, Bill 625 requires both that the driver compartment be sealed off by some physical barrier and that the driver compartment and passenger compartment are separately ventilated. Of course Senator Hill is right in wanting to ensure that the marijuana smoke would not affect the drivers. However, Senator Hill has already taken the necessary steps to ensure that the drivers of party buses or limousines will not be affected by marijuana smoke. Indeed, a mere physical barrier separating the driver from the marijuana smoke may be an “illusory” means of protecting the driver from the effects of marijuana smoke, as the Association of Deputy District Attorneys argues. However, the physical barrier in conjunction with the requirement of separate ventilation systems (and the obvious option to roll down the window) is far from illusory protection.
No Marijuana Consumption in Party Buses, Yet Secondhand Tobacco Smoke is Thriving in California’s Casinos?
The smell of cigarette smoke is just as ubiquitous in casinos as the sound of slot machines. Most casino-goers know the house is stacked against them and the chances of hitting a jackpot are slim. Nonetheless, millions continue to flock to casinos in hopes that they will be that lucky one who hits the jackpot.
As Andrew Myers points out in his article, “Secondhand smoke raises the stakes in America’s casinos,” those who flock to the casinos are acutely aware of “the specter of losing a small fortune.” However, Myers argues, that lurking in the shadows of America’s casinos is the un-contemplated danger of secondhand smoke.
Whether casino-goers contemplate the danger of secondhand tobacco smoke is, of course, up for debate considering the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke are scientifically well-founded and well-known. Despite the overwhelming evidence showing the dangerous effects of secondhand tobacco smoke, many California casinos continue to allow smoking within their premises.
This begs the question – why are some California lawmakers more concerned with protecting drivers of charter buses and limousines from the highly debatable effects of secondhand marijuana exposure, if any, than protecting casino-goers and casino employees from the well-known and well-founded detrimental effects of secondhand tobacco smoke?
In 2017, Senator Jerry Hill was dubbed the senator with the “[most] bills signed into law than anyone else now serving in the California Legislature.” Senator Hill’s legislative history clearly demonstrates a concern for public safety. For example, Assembly Bill 1301 allows the state to suspend or revoke a store’s license if it is found that the store has repeatedly sold tobacco products to minors. Senate Bill 65 prohibits drivers and passengers from consuming marijuana while driving or riding in a motor vehicle.  These bills, for all intents and purposes, make sense.
Because the aforementioned bills jive well with common sense, it seems non-sensical and, quite frankly, counter-productive for Senator Hill to introduce a bill allowing marijuana consumption on party buses under certain, stringent conditions (e.g., the physical barrier and separate ventilation) while also attempting to shelve the very same bill for fear that the marijuana may impair the abilities of the driver.
The Socio-Economic Divide and Public Consumption
In 2011, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a memorandum providing that medical marijuana users who are not current residents of public housing are prohibited from receiving public housing. Local landlords and public housing authorities have the discretion whether or not to evict current residents who are medicinal marijuana users.
Although the connection between the HUD memorandum and the war on drugs is not patently obviously, the HUD memorandum, in practicality, is the undemocratic extension of the war on drugs. In other words, the zero tolerance policy regarding the use of medicinal marijuana promulgated by the 2011 HUD memorandum punishes low-income people by denying them access to federal housing for doing something that is legal on state level.
For people living in federal housing, the question becomes where can one legally consume marijuana. For people who live on their own private property (and tend to not be low-income), this is simply not a question they have to worry about.
In California, for those in the fortunate position of owning their own property, no ramifications arise from consuming cannabis on your own property. On the other hand, if an individual rents an apartment and consumes cannabis, the landlord has every right to ban the use of cannabis and evict the tenant. For those not fortunate enough to own their own property, cannabis lounges become the only place in which an individual can legally consume marijuana without any ramifications.
San Francisco and Oakland are currently the only cities in California that allow cannabis lounges to operate within their jurisdiction. However, Los Angeles is not far behind. According to a recent article by Eater LA, Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café is set to open on September 24th. For more information regarding the future of cannabis consumption cafes in Los Angeles, see https://blog.goaskalandraz.com/where-are-cannabis-lounges-allowed.
Like the connection between the 2011 HUD memorandum and the war on drugs, the potential ban on the use of cannabis on charter buses and/or limousines again pits law enforcement against minorities and low-income people. Assuming the ban passes, the more fortunate will not be as impacted by this ban as those less fortunate because the more fortunate will be insulated from the ramifications by the walls of their private homes, while those less fortunate will not be able to use cannabis in their homes or even on party buses.
What You Can Do To Stop The Ban
If you are as concerned with the proposal to ban consumption of marijuana on charter buses and/or limousines, please contact your local representative. To find out who your local representative, please see http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/. Further, we highly recommend that you contact Senator Jerry Hill (https://sd13.senate.ca.gov/contact) and Governor Newsom (https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/).
In addition to contacting Senator Hill, your local representative and Governor Newsom, Margolin & Lawrence is in the unique position to provide lobbying services. Margolin & Lawrence is registered as a lobbying firm by the city of Los Angeles and the state of California and actively lobbies throughout the state. Further, founders Allison Margolin and J. Raza Lawrence established Advocates for Healing America, a 501(c)(4) registered lobbying firm which aims to provide support to political candidates with a like-minded agenda. For more information, please see https://blog.goaskalandraz.com/the-importance-of-lobbying-in-the-commercial-cannabis-industry and https://www.advocatesforhealingamerica.org/.