The legal sale and consumption of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts came into much clearer focus this week, as state regulators said they are ready to authorize a wide variety of locations where consumers can buy and consume cannabis.
Cannabis officials took preliminary votes to allow marijuana “bars” or cafes where cannabis products can be consumed on site, to permit home delivery of pot, and to regulate the sale and use of the drug at other businesses such as restaurants, yoga studios, movie theaters, and massage businesses that receive state licenses.
In meetings this week, the state Cannabis Control Commission approved creation of a “mixed-use” license for such businesses to sell marijuana products on the side for their customers’ use on the premises.
The vote opens the door, for example, for massage therapists who want to use pot-infused lotions or restaurants that may want to prepare marijuana-laced dishes some nights of the week.
Both marijuana “bars” and the “mixed-use” businesses like movie theaters could only offer single-serve portions of marijuana. And, as at bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, customers wouldn’t be allowed to take any leftover cannabis home.
Cannabis Commissioner Shaleen Title said the creation of pot bars and licenses for other businesses should help reduce marijuana consumption in public spaces — which is illegal and can be a nuisance to others — by giving tourists, parents, renters, and others an approved place to use the drug.
“If we give people a place that’s regulated, that’s overseen by trained staff, and where you can use in a responsible way and don’t have to hide, I think that can only be good,” Title said in an interview.
The votes on policies came during a series of meetings the Cannabis Control Commission is holding this week to draw up specific rules for businesses in the newly-legalized recreational marijuana industry. The agency plans to file detailed draft regulations by Dec. 29 and, after taking comments from the public, enact final rules by March 15. Cannabis sales are scheduled to begin July 1.
Under the new state marijuana law, regulators had the option to license businesses where consumers can buy marijuana products and consume them on the spot but were not required to. This week the cannabis commission embraced the idea, opening the door to a surprising array of retailers who would be allowed to sell the drug.
According to the commission’s emerging vision of the industry, customers at a licensed cannabis club or pot bar could potentially sidle up to the counter, buy a joint, and light up. These venues would need to get most of their business from cannabis sales.
Existing bars and restaurants also could seek a “mixed use” license to allow marijuana consumption. The establishments would be barred from serving alcohol at the same time as marijuana.
Servers at the businesses would have to be trained on how to identify pot-impaired patrons. The commission is also discussing whether the businesses would have to get additional permits to allow indoor smoking.
Other states and cities where marijuana is legal have provisions for businesses where customers can consume pot, but most of those state policies haven’t been fully implemented or leave the operations in a legal gray area. Massachusetts appears poised to become the first to explicitly allow them statewide, though it is likely all companies that want to be involved in marijuana sales or production will also be subject to municipal restrictions.
The commission is still debating some details, including whether consumers would be allowed to BYOC (bring-your-own-cannabis), and whether customers would be allowed to consume the pot by smoking it. If smoking were banned, on-site consumption businesses could only offer edibles or topicals, such as lotions. The agency has also yet to decide whether it will issue one-time licenses for wedding planners and other special event organizers who want permission to serve marijuana.
The commissioners this week also voted to allow brick-and-mortar recreational dispensaries to offer delivery of marijuana to residences. The agency has yet to decide whether to permit delivery-only businesses that don’t also operate a physical store.
The commission also approved a first-in-the-nation inclusion program meant to boost participation in the marijuana industry by minorities and small businesses.
Title wrote several “economic empowerment” programs intended to fulfill the marijuana law’s explicit mandate that the cannabis industry offer business opportunities to minorities and other communities whose members were arrested and incarcerated at disproportionately high rates for drug crimes in the past.
All marijuana licensees would be required to submit plans on how they would promote racial and gender equity and include veterans and people with disabilities.
“Everyone should get a chance to build wealth, especially people who haven’t had a fair chance in the past,” Title said.
“I hope we end up with an industry that looks really different from other industries,” the commissioner said.
Dan Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.