Open bar

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.”

Steven Hoffman, chairman of the cannabis control commission, said the panel got “exactly what we needed” from the advisory board and will begin deliberations next week to craft regulations by the end of the month. But while Hoffman praised the work by the advisory members, he declined to say which, if any, of the recommendations would be adopted.

“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.

The advisory board also recommended giving municipalities the power to regulate the establishments, including further clamps on serving size. They also recommended allowing municipalities to issue one-day licenses to sell and consume marijuana, the same way alcohol licenses are issued for weddings, events, and farmers’ markets.

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.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

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.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    I’m still trying to process the fact the Cannabis Commission is shelling out $25,000 a month for 4,000 square feet of office space.

    • Jack Sullivan

      @Mhmjjj2012, I think your numbers are skewed. It’s $325,000 for the 15-month lease, not $375,000. And it escalates with usable space. It’s lower in the first three months, about $15K, because they’re not using the full area but then goes up to about $23K in the full build-out. They’re paying about $70/usable square foot, not great but not bad for the Financial District, where it runs from a low of about $50/ft up to $100/ft. Plus it gives them access to the Gaming Commission’s meeting rooms and webcast equipment, saving more money.

    • Jack Sullivan

      @Mhmjjj2012, I think your numbers are skewed. It’s $325,000 for the 15-month lease, not $375,000. And it escalates with usable space. It’s lower in the first three months, about $15K, because they’re not using the full area but then goes up to about $23K in the full build-out. They’re paying about $70/usable square foot, not great but not bad for the Financial District, where it runs from a low of about $50/ft up to $100/ft. Plus it gives them access to the Gaming Commission’s meeting rooms and webcast equipment, saving more money.

      • Mhmjjj2012

        You’re right. Your previous article did state $325,000 or $23K a month not the $375,000 and $25K I wrote. So $23K a month for the Financial District appears reasonable. We certainly wouldn’t want the Cannabis Commission slumming it. No, we can’t have that.

  • JeffWalenta

    This is good to see and I hope that there will be a place for social use when all is said and done. This is the one glaring missing piece in every legal states cannabis laws and it needs to be addressed.

  • Can’t wait!