Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em – at home

In the language of the emerging marijuana industry, where cannabis is the preferred term, they are called social consumption sites. Years ago, we would have called them pot bars.

The cafes were envisioned as part of the 2016 ballot question as a place where those who use marijuana could congregate to smoke, drink, and eat THC-infused products with other like-minded consumers. But, like everything else related to marijuana in Massachusetts, they appear to be years away from reality.

Even so, the state Cannabis Control Commission has started the ball rolling on regulations for the cafes, a pretty good idea given how glacial the pace has been for licensing both medical and recreational marijuana facilities.

Should they allow only BYOC (“Bring Your Own Cannabis”) or license places that sell products to be used on premises? If it is BYOC, how does anyone determine the products meet state requirements on strength and toxicity? Should all forms of consumption be allowed, including smoking, or just limit the use to vaping and edibles to avoid the risk of second-hand smoke? How do you monitor impairment for driving after leaving such places without a field sobriety test? And how can communities go about licensing them?

Like most everything else with the marijuana business, there are no ready answers and some problems include legislative obstacles. The commission staff had looked into what other states have done and the answer came back, not much, mainly because of the same issues facing Massachusetts.

The recreational industry is just getting its legs under it in the half-dozen states where it is being legally sold and used but examples of cafes are few and far between. Several cities in California have allowed retail stores to have “tasting bars,” Denver has licensed bring-your-own cafes, and Las Vegas is on the verge of permitting hookah lounges to open up next to retail stores. The place with the most experience is the Netherlands, according to Shawn Collins, the commission’s executive director, where some 700 cafes operate, about one for every 29,000 residents.

According to Collins, no state has a licensing system, leaving it up to cities and towns. That’s a problem in Massachusetts because while the law allows communities to “opt in,” a glitch in the statute provides no process for it to happen.

The referendum’s language regarding the opt-in, which was adopted by the Legislature in its rewrite, calls for cities and towns to follow state law for initiative petitions at the local level. There is, however, no state law for initiative petitions at the local level, leaving no avenue for the local processing to occur. Gov. Charlie Baker and Secretary of State William Galvin plan to submit a fix to the Legislature, but that went nowhere before the session ended. It’s unclear when, if at all, lawmakers will revisit the provision for a fix, one of several changes commissioners say are needed including the enforcement of financial caps on host community agreements.

Another statutory bump in the road is the recently passed law regarding underage smoking that not only hiked the statewide age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, it also adds further restrictions on public smoking. Some of those restrictions could apply to where marijuana can be used, but, like much else, it’s unclear what the effect would be.

For most on the commission, social consumption cafes are a matter of social equality, noting people of color have a far lower rate of home ownership, which may put them in apartments where a landlord prohibits smoking and they have nowhere else to go. It also could be an avenue for those without deep pockets to get into the business in a way that reduces the initial financial investment that comes with inventory and security required for retail stores.

“Personally, I’d like to see it happen, because I do think it’s a social justice issue, being able to consume someplace safe if you can’t do so at your house,” said Chairman Steven Hoffman.

Despite the obstacles, the commission is taking the long view. They voted to start a working group of local officials to look into the issue and start a pilot program with a handful of willing communities. At least one – Holyoke – has already raised its hand.

Commissioner Shaleen Title, the only member of the board who voted for the 2016 ballot question and the only one with private sector experience in the industry, said when everyone looks back on this, they will wonder what the problem was.

“There will be social consumption, eventually,” she said. “This is not some new scary group of people that’s going to start doing some new scary thing. This is something that’s happening. In 10 years, this is going to be as normal as when you go to the Boston Common and see a movie and you can buy a drink. But it’s not happening tomorrow.”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

The Cannabis Control Commission is trying to choose among 10 locations in Worcester for its new headquarters. (Telegram & Gazette)

An arbitrator rapped the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for its handling of an internet backbone buildout in western Massachusetts. (Berkshire Eagle)

Foes of the Beth Israel-Lahey hospital merger are asking the Public Health Council to delay a planned Wednesday vote. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lynn says it needs to borrow $4.5 million to balance its fiscal 2019 budget. (Daily Item)

Based on a parent’s “concerning comment” to a social worker, four schools in Lynn were shut down for more than an hour on Tuesday.

Governing examines the symbiotic, occasionally frosty relationship between elite universities and the communities they call home.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced she will step down at the end of the year, claiming “respect” for the United States is on the rise around the world, a contention undercut by the release of a Pew survey that shows global confidence in President Trump and his policies is at an all-time low. (U.S.News & World Report)

US Sen. Chuck Grassley said if he is still the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2020, he will not bring any Supreme Court nomination up for consideration. (Washington Post)

The acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has a history of liking and retweeting right-wing conspiracy theories and memes on social media, including a racist photo of former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. (Huffington Post)

ELECTIONS

Gov. Charlie Baker and challenger Jay Gonzalez went at in their first debate, with Gonzalez saying the state needs more than a management-focused “status quo” governor and Baker ticking off accomplishments of his first term that he said show he’s been anything but that. (Boston Globe) Adrian Walker wonders if the remarkably sleepy race can wake up in its final weeks. (Boston Globe)

The pro-transgender rights side is significantly outraising those looking to repeal the state’s 2016 law via a November ballot question. (Boston Globe)

Secretary of State William Galvin says he will retain control over the elections office in Lawrence because of concerns about the office’s ability to provide ballots to residents who have had to move because of the gas explosions and fires. (Eagle-Tribune)

Rep. Joe Kennedy, in a wide-ranging interview in which he said he has no plans to run for president, said he thinks the House will reexamine the allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s and his statements during a hearing on the charges if Democrats regain the House. (Greater Boston)
The Democrats have a 7 in 9 chance of winning the House. (FiveThirtyEight)

Voter registration around the country spiked well beyond the normal deadline wave and many are attributing the rush to singer Taylor Swift endorsing Democratic candidates and urging her 112 million Instagram followers to register. (New York Times)

Massachusetts abortion-rights advocates say they are on “high alert” for a battle over women’s reproductive rights following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Boston has more economic mobility — those growing up in low-income households going on to outearn their parents as adults — than nearly all US cities, but there are big racial disparities, with blacks and Latinos not faring as well as whites, according to a new report from The Boston Foundation. (Boston Globe)

Skanska wins the contract to build a new minor league stadium for the Worcester Red Sox. (Telegram & Gazette)

General Electric will still be in line for generous Boston property tax breaks even if it never builds the gleaming 12-story tower once envisioned as part of its headquarters complex in the Seaport district. (Boston Globe)

Sears is preparing to file bankruptcy protection, perhaps as soon as this week, as the iconic retailer that once had everything faces a debt payment deadline. (Wall Street Journal)

EDUCATION

Calls are growing for Boston to abandon use of a test designed for private school admissions as the gateway for acceptance to Boston Latin School following a report showing it is a significant barrier to black and Latino students. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Boston hospitals are warning researchers and top officials to disclose all ties to pharmaceutical and medical device companies in the wake of a scandal over the issue at a prominent New York cancer center. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

State officials settle on three finalists for the design of a new interchange where I-495 and the Massachusetts Turnpike intersect. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The chairwoman of the state Department of Public Utilities said National Grid has shown a “persistent disregard” for state and federal pipeline safety regulations. (Boston Herald) The company defended its use of replacement workers during an ongoing strike by union workers even after a supervisor mistakenly added excess pressure to a natural gas line, forcing the shutdown of service to 300 customers in Woburn. (Boston Globe)

The state Division of Marine Fisheries says a transmission cable from an offshore wind farm proposed by Vineyard Wind would have a lower environmental impact if the power line came ashore in Centerville rather than Lewis Bay in Hyannis, where it would disrupt shellfish beds, and running through Yarmouth, where residents have opposed the project. (Cape Cod Times)

Hurricane Michael intensified to a Category 4 hurricane as it took aim at the Florida panhandle and could bring heavy rain to the Northeast by the end of the week. (New York Times).

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

With its moratorium on recreational marijuana stores expired, New Bedford officials issued a list of stringent steps for applicants to go through, including pre-eligibility screening for financial health and hiring processes. The city also plans to establish a licensing board to monitor cannabis businesses. (Standard-Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A State Police major with Troop F at Logan Airport sought approval to destroy payroll records, but that bid was tabled as officials were concerned the documents could be relevant in ongoing investigations of payroll abuse. (CommonWealth) WBUR also has a story.

Stoughton police said a  20-year-old man charged with assaulting and robbing four people at ATMs admitted he did it to feed himself and his family, who had been evicted from their apartment. (The Enterprise)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe passed the 100,000 mark for digital subscriptions, as print subscriptions continue to slide. (Boston Business Journal)

John Henry, the Globe’s publisher, calls out all the negative coverage of the Red Sox that hinted the Sox were on the ropes when the series was tied 1-1. (MassLive)

Stat, the medical publication owned by Henry, is trying to keep its focus on the interests of its paying subscribers and not general readers. (Nieman Journalism Lab)