Smoke Free Apartment Living

I’ve received multiple complaints about one tenant vaping and smoking marijuana. How should I approach the offending tenant? Can I request to see his medical marijuana card?

“Smoke is smoke. Both tobacco and marijuana smoke impair blood vessel function similarly. People should avoid both….”
-Matthew Springer, cardiovascular researcher and Associate Professor of Medicine, UCSF

The issue is really not about medical marijuana and someone’s possible disability.  Rather, the problem here is that secondhand smoke inhaled by non-smoking residents, whether it be from tobacco, marijuana, or some other substance is likely a nuisance.  A nuisance, broadly defined in the multifamily world, is an activity which is harmful or injurious to those living within proximity to it.  Common apartment nuisances might include excessive noise, illegal drug manufacturing and distribution, and the harboring of dangerous animals within the home of the nuisance-committing resident.  Secondhand smoke, when exhaled around others within the vicinity of the smoker, is also a serious nuisance.

Indeed, the US Surgeon General has stated that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.  And while most publicity is directed towards the over seventy chemicals in cigarettes that are carcinogenic, secondhand marijuana smoke contains fine particulate matter that can be breathed deeply into the lungs and cause lung irritation, asthma attacks, and increase the likelihood of respiratory infection. Significant amounts of mercury, cadmium, nickel, lead, hydrogen cyanide, and chromium, as well as enhanced levels of ammonia, are found in mainstream marijuana smoke.

In 2009, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment added marijuana smoke to its Proposition 65 list of carcinogens and reproductive toxins. It reported that at least thirty-three toxins present in both marijuana smoke and tobacco smoke are Proposition 65 carcinogens.  In sum, secondhand smoke from marijuana contains many of the same deadly chemicals as smoke from tobacco, including those linked to lung cancer.

So what does this mean?  Even with no-smoking clauses in the lease agreement, many operators are now grappling with marijuana smokers, especially since recreational use has been legalized.  Yet regardless of pot’s legal status, and regardless of someone’s medical need for it, using marijuana in a manner that is injurious to others is a nuisance and, for the landlord’s protection, must be aggressively addressed. 

For starters, the offending resident should be formally warned in writing that the continued dissemination of secondhand smoke may lead to legal action, including the possible termination of the tenancy.  Secondly, because evictions are no longer practical, management should make every effort to find a mechanical remedy such as (a) sealing the doors and windows of the smoker’s apartment; (b) installing ventilation or air filtration system in the common areas or near/within the smoker’s unit that will abate the smoke; and, most importantly, (c) for the entire apartment community, emphasize smoke-free policies throughout building common areas, in new lease agreements, and even in existing leases. (While leases that permit smoking cannot be unilaterally changed to prohibit smoking with the eviction as an enforcement mechanism, owners can and should inform all residents that for health and safety reasons the building is non-smoking and that everyone is expected to support a safe and harm-free living environment).  Lastly, urge the smoker to switch to other forms of smokeless delivery.  Any cannabis shop nowadays sells their ware in the smoke-free form of (i) edibles; (ii) pills, capsules, and tablets; (iii) powder; (iv) transdermal patches; (v) vapes; (vi) tinctures (droplets); and (vii) topicals.