Though Oregon’s new clean indoor air provisions kicked in Jan. 1, the World Famous Cannabis Café continues to operate as usual this week, with its popular Stoner Bingo meet-ups and Thursday night jam sessions.
But Multnomah County has already received a complaint about smoking in the establishment and plans to send owner Madeline Martinez a letter reminding her about the law.
After a 10-day grace period, a county code enforcement officer will visit the cafe to make sure Martinez is in compliance, Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, a county spokeswoman, said Wednesday. The officer would then outline the steps the business needs to take and make an additional unannounced visit, she said.
Penalties include the possibility of daily fines of up to $500 per violation, said Sullivan-Springhetti.
Last month, a Multnomah County public health official dropped by after receiving complaints about smoking in the club. The official, Erik Vidstrand, told Martinez that cannabis smoking and vaping in her club would be illegal after Jan. 1.
Though Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act was implemented in 2009, lawmakers this year expanded it to prohibit the use of devices like vaporizer pens and e-cigarettes in public areas and work places. Marijuana was 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 must be certified by the state.
Martinez said cannabis clubs should be added to the list of exemptions. Portland lawyer Leland Berger said marijuana advocates plan to lobby the Oregon Legislature this year to create such an exemption.
Oregon is home to a handful of cannabis clubs where people generally pay a membership fee to smoke, dab and vape the drug in a social setting.
Martinez maintains that her club is private and should not fall under the new provision. Patrons must pay a membership fee and IDs are checked at the door.
She also argues that her club shouldn’t be treated as a work place since she doesn’t have employees. She no longer relies on volunteers either. She declined to say publicly how she’ll staff the club but said her plan means she’s operating legally.
“We are not doing anything wrong,” said Martinez, who also recently installed a smoke filter. “We are not doing anything illegal.”
The Oregon Health Authority is responsible for enforcing the clean air rules. The agency delegates that authority to local public health agencies.
Karen Girard, section manager for the health authority’s health promotion and chronic disease prevention section, said the law is complaint driven. She said prior to Jan. 1, the agency had received “several complaints” about smoking at the World Famous Cannabis Café but hadn’t taken action since the law had not yet been implemented.
Girard said the agency has not sought legal opinions from the Oregon Department of Justice about whether pot clubs are work places or public spaces under the clean air law.
The law already prompted one club, the Other Spot, to close.
Nickie Gates said she worried about facing steep fines for violating the law so she shuttered the year-old Southeast Portland establishment on New Year’s Day.
Gates said the decision to close has left patrons, most of whom were medical marijuana patients, without a place to consume. Public marijuana consumption remains illegal. A medical marijuana patient herself, Gates said she isn’t allowed to light up in her rented apartment.
“I am a patient in this state,” she said. “Where am I going to go?”