Cannabis commission focuses on “social consumption”
WHEN VOTERS PASSED the referendum legalizing adult use of marijuana, most people focused on the ability to use pot in their own homes or with friends. State regulators, however, are being urged to set their sights on another place to get high – the neighborhood pot bar.
At a meeting of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission on Tuesday, members of the agency’s advisory board pitched regulators on regulations covering on-site “social consumption” of marijuana – think bars serving pot rather than alcohol. The advisory board members said pot bars would help keep the drug out of the hands of minors and aid in monitoring and limiting the level of consumption.
Michael Latulippe, development director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance and a member of the advisory board, suggested to the commission that having places where people could consume cannabis in smaller amounts would circumvent the problem of parents buying bulk quantities and bringing it home where it could be accessed by children. Pot bars could also cater to tourists, who may want to buy and use pot but cannot if they are staying in hotels or inns that prohibit the use.
“The package store model is old-fashioned and the consumer really wants a place to consume cannabis and do it safely,” Latulippe said. “By giving them a safe place, it could resolve that issue. We have some quite interesting solutions to the problem, some elegant solutions to the problem.”
“We appreciate all the hard work they put into this,” Hoffman said. “We’re going to give them serious weight but we’re not obligated to accept them.”
Among the places the advisory board foresees dabbling in retail marijuana sales and use are yoga studios, massage therapists’ offices, wellness centers, coffee shops, bistros, art galleries, and marijuana-only bars. One of the difficulties for Massachusetts officials is the lack of success other states have had in launching and regulating marijuana bars, leaving no road map for how to implement regulations.
“We really are inventing a new industry here with the social consumption piece,” said Jaime Lewis, a member of the advisory board who chaired the Public Health subcommittee.
Latulippe proposed some social consumption regulations, including developing a single-serve “immediate use” size regulation and limiting “exposure” to .35 ounces a day, roughly 10 grams. Latulippe and others said the exposure limit is not intended to cap the use of pot, per se, but rather to reduce the exposure to contaminants in pot products stemming from cultivation and extraction, such as pesticides, herbicides, and metal residues.
The recommendations included having different licensing requirements and fees for different establishments that offer inhaled use, ingested use, or dermal use, similar to the way alcohol is regulated with beer and wine and hard liquor.
With no legal way yet developed to measure pot intoxication and none on the horizon for the planned July 1, 2018 launch of recreational sales in Massachusetts, the advisory board urged commissioners to focus on training for “budtenders” to recognize overindulgence and ensure people don’t drive under the influence, similar to the training bars and restaurant employees undergo.
While many of the recommendations were based on similar regulations the state applies to alcohol licensing, the advisory board recommended any marijuana establishment be prohibited from selling alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. In addition, the subcommittee recommended strong education programs aimed at consumers to warn about the dangers of mixing pot with alcohol.
While much of the focus was on pot bars, there were other areas that will require regulations as well and the most vexing was what power to give municipalities that allow marijuana facilities to operate in their borders.
Matt Allen, chairman of the Public Safety and Mitigation subcommittee and field director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said municipalities expressed a lot of anxiety over mandates they may have to enforce and the costs associated with it. Allen said the commission should make sure that host agreements, which can be as much as 3 percent of gross revenue of an establishment, be set to cover real costs and not as a negotiation tool as some companies say they were used in medical marijuana permitting.
“There was a sense that [medical] dispensaries were not really in a good bargaining position,” Allen said. “They needed local approval.”
The subcommittees offered no set fee structure for licensing recreational retail, cultivation, manufacturing, or distributing operations, though they urged the commission to set them at levels that would not be prohibitive for businesses owned by women, minorities or veterans as well as so-called craft cooperatives where small farmers join together for cultivation. They suggested four tiers based on size of establishments.
The Market Participation subcommittee, which was charged with developing regulations to encourage diversity from impacted communities, recommended using some fees or sales tax revenues to develop a fund for loans to women, minorities, and veterans’ groups who might otherwise qualify for marijuana licenses but don’t have the capital to get the resources they need.The market subcommittee also said the commission should not draw up regulations that would automatically prohibit those who have arrests or convictions from participating in the industry without a review. Shanel Lindsay, chairman of the market subcommittee, said people of color and their communities have been disproportionally impacted by law enforcement and such automatic bans would affect them more than others.
“You can’t look at cannabis prohibition and not look at marginalized groups… those harmed by prohibition,” said Lindsay, an attorney and founder of Ardent, a Boston-based biotech and medical cannabis device company.