Cannabis group slams Yee’s proposed apartment smoking ban as ‘classist’

Legislation would impose fines of $1,000 a day on repeat violators

A proposed ban on the smoking and vaping of tobacco or cannabis in San Francisco apartments that is up for a vote Tuesday has marijuana advocates fired up.

The City’s own cannabis advisory committee has blasted the proposed legislation as “classist” and called on the Board of Supervisors to reject it outright.

Introduced by Board president Norman Yee, who leaves office in January, the proposal would prohibit the smoking or vaping of cannabis and tobacco in buildings with three or more units to protect people from the harms of secondhand smoke.

Yee did amend his initial proposal to allow an exemption for those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes with proof of a doctor’s recommendation, but this has not satisfied cannabis advocates.

The San Francisco Cannabis Oversight Committee, established to advise the board and mayor on policies impacting cannabis, sent the board a five-page letter arguing for its rejection.

“The legislation seeks to protect air quality for nonsmokers, but would do so at the cost of the health and civil liberties of cannabis users including seriously ill medical cannabis patients — the vast majority of whom do not have physician’s recommendations because cannabis use is supposed to be legal for all adults,” reads the letter signed by committee chair Nina Parks.

The advisory committee, along with other critics, also condemned the proposal for imposing $1,000 per day penalties for repeat violators of the ban.

Yee has emphasized he wants education to lead in the enforcement of the ban, which would be left up to the Department of Public Health. Violators would receive a notice before facing fines.

The proposal also makes clear that any violation is not legal grounds for an eviction of a tenant.

The letter dubs the proposal “Yee’s classist ordinance” because those who can afford their own single-family homes would still be able smoke cannabis freely there.

“San Franciscans who can afford to buy free-standing homes would be unaffected and could still smoke in peace,” the letter said. “The $1,000/day penalty adds insult to injury, since only wealthy people can pay such fines, but wealthy people are already exempted by virtue of owning their own free-standing homes.”

The backlash has not persuaded Yee to change his mind.

“Supervisor Yee understands how this policy could be viewed as exempting people ‘who can afford to buy free-standing homes’ from the smoke-free housing policy,” said a statement sent to the San Francisco Examiner by one of his legislative aides. “But we would challenge that framing, and instead say that currently only residents who can ‘afford to buy their own free-standing homes’ are fortunate enough to choose to breathe smoke-free air in their homes.”

“The right to be able to breathe safely in your home should exist for everyone in our city — regardless of where you live,” the statement continued.

The cannabis oversight committee argues that the medicinal exemption still poses a barrier to access.

“Even though anyone can get a recommendation in California, health care is not free either,” the letter said. “Many people struggle to afford health insurance and copays for medical appointments and medications, let alone a special piece of paper to be allowed to [smoke] cannabis at home legally.”

Yee argues that while there are “great benefits” from cannabis use there are “still health risks of exposure to secondhand cannabis smoke.”

“While barriers to accessing medical cannabis exist and could prohibit some people from being able to access this medicine to treat medical conditions, addressing the barriers that limit access to medical cannabis can be worked on concurrently with and apart from this legislation,” the statement said.

Jesse Stout, a member of the San Francisco Cannabis Oversight Committee, said the whole process has been rushed and hopes the full board simply sends it back to a board committee for further consideration.

Yee introduced the proposal on Election Day and waived the rule that legislation sit for at least 30 days before being heard by a committee.

If approved, Stout said, “Certainly someone will sue The City.”

He argued the ban would conflict with Proposition 64, the 2016 voter-approved state measure that legalized adult use, since people cannot legally use cannabis in public. That would mean for those in apartments there would be no legal place to smoke except a handful of consumption lounges, although they are currently closed due to the pandemic.

Yee remains “not comfortable with a broad exemption” for cannabis, his legislative aide said Wednesday.

But several supervisors have come out in support of a full exemption for cannabis use.

“SF has been on the forefront of allowing safe adult use of cannabis for decades,” Supervisor Matt Haney recently tweeted. “We’ve recognized that adults should be able to use it responsibly and respectfully, often in their own home. This would be an unreasonable and unnecessary step backwards.”

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman also wants to see a blanket exemption for cannabis, he told the San Francisco Examiner Wednesday. Same goes for Supervisor Hillary Ronen and Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

“Feels like a catch-22 for folks who use cannabis,” Peskin said. “I will support an amendment to exempt cannabis.”

Other supervisors did not take a position. Supervisor Ahsha Safai said he was “still reviewing it.”

Tenant advocates have also raised some concerns.

Brad Hirn, with the Housing Rights Committee, said that it could increase tensions between tenants.

“It’s for sure just going to cause so much antagonism between tenants,” Hirn said. “We have people sheltering in place and you want to incentivize people to fight with each other?”

Hirn suggested instead that The City explore offering incentives to landlords “to properly seal their buildings and their apartments to prevent smoke from traveling more easily.”

A number of groups have weighed in on both sides of the issue. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Arab American Grocers Association and the California Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws oppose it. The American Heart Association and the San Francisco Tobacco-Free Coalition support it.

It would take at least six votes to approve the legislation. Yee currently has two co-sponsors in supervisors Sandra Fewer and Shamann Walton. Supervisor Catherine Stefani has previously indicated her support.

San Francisco Examiner reporter Ida Mojadad contributed to this story.

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