Smoke is smoke -- sometimes
July 13, 2012
Ashley Archibald, Santa Monica Daily PressA new law passed by the City Council this week to ban smoking in apartments and condominiums for all new tenants in Santa Monica could include medical marijuana patients, according to the City Attorney's Office. The ban, passed Tuesday night, does away with smoking in apartments and condominiums for new tenants, but includes no language specifically dealing with medical marijuana, a drug that is legal with a doctor's recommendation in California and is commonly smoked.
Instead, the preamble details the risks posed by second-hand smoke and tobacco products, specifically that second-hand smoke is considered a dangerous carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.
That smoke can enter the homes of nonsmokers through shared ventilation systems. It has been proven to travel through electrical sockets, and even seep in through walls.
According to a study conducted by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, between 30 and 50 percent of the air in a person's apartment comes from another unit.
To protect their neighbors from second-hand smoke, smokers are expected to take their habit outside, away from other doorways and areas that have been banned from smokers by previous legislation.
It's not so easy for marijuana users, said Kris Hermes, a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy organization.
"While there's no specific law prohibiting (smoking outdoors), it isn't necessarily socially acceptable," Hermes said. "There is a significant stigma attached to consuming medical marijuana."
Medical marijuana users can't consume their medicine without attracting attention, often from law enforcement, Hermes said.
"People don't want that risk, understandably so," he said.
For the most part, that leaves the home as one of the few places that medical marijuana users can take their meds.
"It is a potentially complicated area," said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky. "Under the definition of smoking, (marijuana) is definitely included."
From a public safety point of view, second-hand smoke produced by burning marijuana is a problem.
According to a 2007 study published in the journal "Chemical Research in Toxicology" comparing second-hand smoke from marijuana and cigarettes, marijuana smoke contains many of the same chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
That by itself was the most important finding, according to the paper, although some quantitative measures showed much higher amounts of ammonia and hydrogen cyanide, among other things, when the marijuana was burned.
Hydrogen cyanide is a chemical used for fumigation and pesticides, according to the Center for Disease Control.
It's likely that medical marijuana exemptions to the ordinance will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis, with passes given only to those that can prove that they need to smoke and can't take it outdoors, Radinsky said.
"We can treat it similarly to a disability request. It will need to be based on a situation that is a medical reality that a doctor can confirm. Then it might be an exemption," Radinsky said. "We would assume the user would need a valid doctor's note on the need for smoking in a way that violated the law."
If marijuana users can find alternative means to consume their medicine without smoking, that might disqualify them from getting an exemption.
The chemicals found in marijuana that help patients are called cannabinoids, and combustion is not the only way to get them into the body.
They can be released in fats and then used for cooking, or put in a machine called a vaporizer that heats the marijuana until the chemicals are released but before the vegetation actually starts to burn.
No burning, no smoke.
While those options would satisfy the no-smoking ban, they don't work for all people, Hermes said.
"There are people in chemotherapy, who are living with cancer or have HIV or AIDS that can't keep food down," Hermes said. "It's easier to smoke than ingest foods for obvious reasons."
Vaporizers are expensive. Top of the line models can cost upwards of $200, and the results are not consistent from patient to patient, Hermes said.
Roger Diamond, a local attorney, is "very much an anti-smoker and pro-fresh air."
He's also representing a medical marijuana testing facility that tried to set up shop in Santa Monica before City Hall shut it down by refusing to give it a business license.
For Diamond, it's not about the substance, it's about the smoke.
"I think smoking anything should be banned in apartments," Diamond said. "Nobody should be forced to inhale someone's smoke."
A libertarian, Diamond concedes it would be different if apartment complexes were sealed, and that one person's activities didn't impact their neighbors.
Until that happens, "marijuana will have to be eaten in brownies or consumed some other way," Diamond said.