WWEEK.COM – John Mealy has something rare that lots of people want: a legal place to smoke weed.
“People come from all over—Nepal, Romania, Australia,” he says, standing on the porch of his North Portland home. “If they have pot, they can smoke it anywhere in the house they want.”
For three years, Mealy has been renting out two rooms of his baby blue Arbor Lodge home on the website Airbnb. He’s part of a burgeoning “bud and breakfast” industry that’s taken up a sliver of Portland’s short-term rental market—more than 25 rentals now allow pot smoking either in the guest room or elsewhere on the property.
Mealy didn’t break into the cannabis tourism sector because he saw dollar signs. He and his partner, Katy, liked to smoke pot, and they needed renters who weren’t, in his words, “deadbeats.”
But the service Mealy provides is rare—and he won’t face new competition anytime soon.
The future of cannabis tourism in Oregon took a hit June 6, when a bill that would have made marijuana lounges legal died.
Senate Bill 307 was the proposed solution to a conundrum for tourists visiting legally green Oregon: You can buy the pot, but there are few places you’re allowed to smoke it.
“We have a lot of people come in thinking Portland is like Amsterdam,” says Sean Wilson, owner of the Northeast Portland marijuana dispensary Ascend. “They think they can just go to a coffee shop and smoke, and we have to tell them no, that’s not the case.”
Amsterdam, of course, is known for its open attitude to marijuana consumption. Some U.S. cities are starting to follow suit. Denver approved an initiative last November that allows for social marijuana consumption in designated areas, like clubs or lounges. Las Vegas passed a similar bill in April.
Current Oregon law states that adults over 21 can use recreational marijuana at home or on private property, but not in public. Those marijuana products include edibles and extracts.
While eating a brownie in public is much less conspicuous than lighting a joint, Wilson points out that cannabis-curious tourists are more prone to buy pre-rolled joints for price and comfort reasons.
SB 307 would have given the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the agency that regulates the marijuana industry, the authority to issue licenses for cannabis lounges and events.
More than 15 organizations and individuals supported the bill—including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.
In a letter to lawmakers, Wheeler and Eudaly pointed out the bill would encourage people to visit Oregon.
“The city appreciates the need to balance the business interests of the cannabis industry, the needs of cannabis consumers, and the safety and livability issues that affect Oregonians and Oregon’s visitors,” the letter read, “and the city of Portland believes that balance is appropriately struck with SB 307.”
But anti-smoking forces from medical groups won the day.
“The burden should be on the marijuana industry to demonstrate why marijuana smoke is vastly different from tobacco smoke in terms of public health and safety,” the Oregon Nurses Association wrote in its letter of opposition to the bill.
Because opponents of SB 307 won, there are still few options for places to legally smoke weed in Portland.
Portland’s Jupiter Hotel does offer a “420 Package”: a room with a “Munchie Kit,” an “Everything but the Weed Kit” and other cannabis-related swag included. But there is a significant caveat: You may not actually smoke in your room.
“Smoking of marijuana can be odorous and lingering,” says hotel spokesman Al Munguia. “At this point, we don’t find designated smoking rooms a feasible option for many reasons.”
The Portland Police Bureau takes a notably hands-off approach to cannabis enforcement.
“We do little to no marijuana enforcement and haven’t for many, many years,” bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says. Tourists caught smoking marijuana in a city park could expect, “at most, a ticket.”
Although SB 307 failed to get enough votes this session, members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana are still pushing to make social, public marijuana consumption legal.
“If we can’t get something across the finish line this year, I hope we can revisit the issue in 2018,” says Rep. Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego), a committee co-chairwoman. “If we want to have a cannabis tourism sector like our wine tourism sector, it makes sense to give people a safe and legal place to consume.”
In the meantime, there are weed-friendly short-term rentals.
At least 20 people list cannabis-friendly Portland rentals on Airbnb. Another website, Bud and Breakfast, markets rooms that are open to weed smokers—including a renovated camper van and a Columbia River houseboat. All the Bud and Breakfast rentals allow smoking on the property. Five let you smoke in your room.
The rooms Mealy rents on Airbnb are advertised as “Romancing the Stoned.” They start at $84 a night, tax included, and they’re usually booked up all summer.
This week, we stayed in one. The rentals are, to put it lightly, very cannabis-friendly. Guests get a “stoner survival kit” when they check in, with snacks, lighters, a gimmicky corncob pipe and a tiny pop-top container of weed. Several cats roam the house.
Mealy is a quiet and hospitable host, checking in to offer pineapple upside-down cake and homemade pot brownies from time to time. Mealy recalls fond memories of international travelers bringing gifts, like kimonos and teapots, for him and Katy.
But the best part of renting out “420 rooms”? Mealy is blunt: “The money is the best.”
Elise Herron, Willamette Week