Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) is concerned that regulations proposed by cannabis boards in California, Colorado, and other states that have legalized recreational marijuana do not adequately protect non-users from exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke. We have seen attempts to weaken clean air protections to allow marijuana smoking and vaping in places that are currently required to be smokefree.

Recently, ANR saw a news clip about a cannabis festival being held at a county fairgrounds in California, which highlighted that the festival would allow indoor marijuana smoking. ANR staff contacted the local tobacco control program, which knew about the festival but not that it planned to allow indoor smoking. Marijuana smoking in workplaces and public places violates California’s smokefree air law and the new state marijuana regulations. The tobacco control program mobilized quickly and discovered that the fairgrounds management, festival operators, and local police did not have accurate information about the smokefree and marijuana laws. Thanks to the program’s outreach, the fairgrounds CEO said that smoking would not be allowed in fairgrounds buildings.

This situation is a good reminder that tobacco control programs, health partners, and advocates should keep an eye out for events and venues that may try to permit marijuana smoking in places where it is not allowed, and/or would needlessly expose non-users to secondhand smoke. Likewise, we should all be alert to marijuana businesses and boards that advocate for weakening smokefree protections so as to allow marijuana smoking in more workplaces and public places.

We’re not alone in our concern. And we’re speaking out. Legal, recreational marijuana is the subject of much public health news of late. In a widely publicized radio story titled “Now That Pot Is Legal, Should You Worry About Secondhand Smoke?” the San Francisco NPR affiliate, KQED, interviewed Cynthia Hallett, MPH, President and CEO of ANR, who stated:

“I’m seeing a parallel between this argument that ‘We just don’t have a lot of science and so therefore let’s wait and see.’ The tobacco companies used to say the same thing about cigarettes. It starts on the premise of decriminalization, and then over time there’s a chipping away at strong policies.”

The story points out that a lot of marijuana advocates want to see it regulated like alcohol; they want to enable its use in more public places, including specialized smoking lounges, similar to wine bars. Hallett pointed out that smoke drifts and affects workers and patrons in a way that alcohol does not, stating, “The difference is, if I were to spill my beer on you in a bar, it wouldn’t affect your long-term health.”
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We’re not questioning the rights of individuals to use marijuana. We’re advocating for the rights of nonsmokers to breathe smokefree air.

The bottom line is that smokefree spaces should stay smokefree. Regardless of how one feels about marijuana use, no one should have to breathe secondhand marijuana smoke at work, in public, or where they live.

This article first appeared in Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights printed newsletter, UPDATE. To receive ANR’s printed UPDATE, donate to the ANR Foundation or join ANR. Read more about our newsletter here.