Massachusetts might just become the first state in the U.S. to have cannabis cafes. A cannabis cafe is an establishment where adults can gather and purchase and consume cannabis recreationally.
The Cannabis Control Commission, which is a five-member panel tasked to regulate the state’s cannabis industry, will first need to approve the proposed regulations pertaining to the granting of licenses to social cannabis establishments. The commission’s decision is expected later this month.
Proposed regulations for cannabis cafés in Massachusetts
Massachusetts legalized the use of cannabis for recreational purposes as of December 15, 2016, after a ballot initiative. However, the consumption of weed in public areas remains illegal. This is the reason why social consumption establishments or cannabis cafes need to get a license from state regulators and adhere to certain guidelines.
Under the draft regulations, the establishments are not allowed to serve alcohol and they also have to make sure that cannabis is kept away from minors.
The draft regulations also proposed two kinds of social consumption licenses:
- Primary use license for businesses that would get more than 50 percent of its business from the sale of cannabis products. This kind of business is often referred to as cannabis cafe.
- Mixed use license for businesses that want to sell cannabis as sideline to their main business. Examples of this kind of business are restaurants that add cannabis-infused menu items, yoga studios with cannabis massage therapy offerings, and movie theaters.
Opposition to cannabis café
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, however, strongly opposes the idea.
“Licensing the more exotic, specialty businesses can wait until later.” – Gov. Charlie Baker
Just last week, the Baker administration was urging the commission to hold off on giving cannabis cafes the green light.
Dan Bennett, Secretary of Public Safety, had penned a letter warning the commission that licensing these establishments would likely lead to an increase in incidents of people driving under the influence of cannabis. He also wrote that it could lead to more minors accessing recreational weed.
Baker, who had opposed legalizing cannabis in the state, wants regulators to instead focus first on licensing retail stores, where buyers can get cannabis yet not be allowed to consume the drug on site.
“Licensing the more exotic, specialty businesses can wait until later,” Baker said. According to him, people should be able to “crawl before walking, then walk before running.”
Retail sales may be postponed
Speaking of retail stores, members of the commission have just warned that the start of retail cannabis sales could be delayed. Retail sales, which is expected to begin on July 1, could be pushed back if the staff, the technology, and the resources needed to oversee the state’s cannabis industry are still not in place before then.
The Cannabis Control Commission’s lawyer, Britte McBride, explained that July 1 is merely an aspirational date and not a statutory deadline. This means that the date can be moved.
Former state senator Jennifer Flanagan, who is now a member of the commission, said that they are on track to finalize cannabis regulations by March 15, just as the law had required, but the July 1 target date for allowing cannabis retail stores to open can be moved if majority of the five-member panel agree to do it.
Even Committee Chairman Steve Hoffman has tried to quench expectations for the cannabis industry to be operational by the target date. “If our staff and our technology are already in place, we will be ready to go,” Hoffman told reporters. “However, if they are not, we also won’t be ready.”
Supporters speak up
Proponents of cannabis cafes argue that nothing is extraordinary about the social consumption business concept.
Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project’s Massachusetts chapter, pointed out that “social sites are going to simply give users similar options as alcohol users.”
Shaleen Title, the CCC’s associate commissioner, argued that social consumption establishments would offer an option for those who prefer not to bring weed home with them for whatever reason, such as non-approving roommates or family members, or the presence of children.