Susan, a 53-year-old Santa Rosa apartment dweller, smokes marijuana every day to alleviate chronic pain from a variety of conditions, including herniated discs, spinal curvature and tendinitis. She also uses the drug to relieve her anxiety and depression.
As a longtime medical cannabis patient, Susan, who asked not to have her last name published, said she has cut back on prescription drugs and gotten off antidepressants after 18 years.
“The less pharmaceuticals the better,” she said, convinced she’ll live longer the fewer she takes.
The prospect of her landlord banning the smoking of medical cannabis is upsetting. “I’d have to go back on a ton of meds,” she said.
But a bill proposed by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, would make it clear that California landlords who prohibit smoking tobacco in rental properties may also ban medical pot smoking. The reason, Wood said, is the same: secondhand smoke of either type is unhealthy.
The legislation would parallel local laws in Sonoma County that ban tobacco smoking in attached housing, including Santa Rosa’s prohibition enacted last year, along with limits on smoking in parks and other outdoor areas. Regulating medical marijuana has proved problematic due to concerns over patients’ rights and the various means of consuming cannabis as medicine.
Wood’s bill is supported by several real estate and housing organizations, and by two groups representing health care districts and health executives.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws California chapter is neutral on the bill.
Wood, a dentist, said his judgment on marijuana smoke relied on research by a UC San Francisco medical professor that shows secondhand marijuana smoke, which contains many of the same chemicals as tobacco smoke, causes a 70 percent reduction in blood vessel function in laboratory rats.
Matthew Springer, an expert on cardiovascular disease, said he believes his study is the first to identify such an impact. It fills a gap in scientific assessment of secondhand smoke from the plant that millions of people regard as medicine and that supports a fast-growing, multibillion-dollar industry in California and other states where it is legal.
“While I don’t want to give medical advice, I do feel comfortable saying that our results provide evidence that marijuana secondhand smoke is not necessarily harmless, as some might want to believe,” Springer said, adding that it may have effects on blood vessels that are “similar and potentially more extreme than those from tobacco.”
His findings apply only to rats, but Springer said it is a “reasonable extension” to say humans would have the same response. The impact is not due to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, because it occurred in rats exposed to pot smoke with all the cannabinoids removed, Springer said.
More generally, Springer said that smoke from the combustion of any plant material — wood, tobacco or marijuana — is loaded with harmful chemicals. “Smoke is bad for you — it’s that simple,” he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that secondhand tobacco smoke causes more than 41,000 deaths a year from lung cancer and heart disease. Tobacco and marijuana smoke both carry numerous cancer-causing chemicals, but research efforts to link marijuana with cancer and lung disease have been inconclusive, Springer said.
Wood said he is carrying the bill, AB 2300, on behalf of the California Apartment Association, which represents owners and managers responsible for more than 2 million rental units. Landlords probably have the right to ban tobacco and medical marijuana smoking under current law, but they have been repeatedly sued for trying to enforce prohibitions on both, Wood said.
“The smoking of marijuana is a major source of conflict between smoking and nonsmoking tenants, with landlords getting caught in the middle,” Shant Apekian, a spokesman for the association, said in a letter to Wood. “Families living in rental housing are exposed to potentially harmful secondhand smoke from their neighbor’s smoking.”
The California Association of Realtors also supports the bill, and Daniel Sanchez, spokesman for the North Bay Association of Realtors, said local members would appreciate clarification of their rights to ban medical marijuana smoking.
Wood said some medical marijuana advocates believe they have a right to smoke “wherever they feel it is necessary.” But Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, allows the use of medical cannabis but does not spell out how or where it may be consumed, he said.
His one-page bill doesn’t say so expressly, but Wood said the proposed legislation does not restrict use of cannabis edibles or oils.
“This is a public health issue,” he said. “Smoke is a health hazard and a nuisance to people.”
Greenbridge Corporate Counsel, a San Francisco-based law firm that represents medical marijuana businesses, called for an amendment to the bill to allow vaporizing marijuana, or vaping, for patients who need it to take effect more quickly than it does by ingestion.
Wood said he is not considering such an amendment.
Springer, as a UC faculty member, said he is not taking a position on Wood’s bill nor on legalization of adult use of marijuana, a question that California voters are likely to decide in the November election. He also said he is leery of vaping because tests are not clear that it eliminates all the harmful byproducts of combustion.
Hezekiah Allen, head of the nearly 500-member California Growers Association, a coalition of cannabis cultivators, said the group has no position on Wood’s measure because the group is “focused on the agriculture side of things.”
The relationship between landlords and tenants is delicate, he said, and secondhand smoke is “a touchy subject … a very personal issue for everyone.”
Allen said he encourages marijuana growers “to get active and speak for themselves” on the matter.
Wood said his bill would apply to all rental facilities, including single-family homes as well as multifamily structures.
AB 2300 was unanimously approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee last week and is scheduled for a vote on the Assembly floor Thursday.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.