Norwell resident, founder and executive director of ELEVATE Northeast, a nonprofit organization educating professionals and communities about cannabis.
Voters passed Question 4 in 2016 in good faith that legalization includes access not just to buy cannabis but to consume it as well. We now find Massachusetts at the brink of opening retail sales, but with limited options for people to consume their purchases. Why legalize something all adults can purchase but only some can consume legally?
Nearly 40 percent of Massachusetts households are rentals, and landlords are within their rights to prohibit smoking of any kind. And, just like with drinking alcohol, many adults want to socialize with cannabis outside the home and away from the kids. Establishing social consumption regulations and reasonable zoning for “marijuana cafes” must be prioritized for the benefit of renters, parents, tourists, and other individuals looking for a comfortable, legal place to consume marijuana.
Barbary Coast in San Francisco is one such place. Earlier this month, after making a purchase at the dispensary side of that facility, I was asked by a host at the adjacent consumption lounge several questions to ensure my consumption experience was safe and enjoyable. I was asked if I’d recently traveled on an airplane, and when I’d last eaten, and was advised to drink plenty of water — questions no liquor stores or bars ask their alcohol-consuming customers.
But not all California cannabis lounges allow actual smoking: At Magnolia in Oakland, customers may only vaporize or eat marijuana products on-site. Massachusetts towns have these and other operating models to learn from and build upon.
Delays in licensing social consumption businesses harm the licensed businesses cultivating and processing cannabis products, perpetuate the negative stigma against people who consume cannabis, and prevent adults from being able to emerge from the shadows to consume this legal and safer alternative to alcohol.
There are currently 1,100 liquor licenses in Boston alone. With the Centers for Disease Control reporting nearly one in ten adult deaths of working age adults attributable to excessive drinking, and zero deaths from marijuana overdoses, it is a short-sighted failure of our local and state regulators to delay the licensing and opening of facilities where adults can legally consume their cannabis purchases.
John F. Carmichael Jr.
Walpole Police Chief; member of Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board
For cities and towns to allow so-called marijuana cafes will require the Legislature to make fixes to the state legislation legalizing recreational marijuana. But even when that is done, these types of establishments will provide few benefits to communities so there is no reason to rush the process.
While the catch phrase “treating marijuana like alcohol” is commonly applied, extending the same model used for alcohol to marijuana bars would not be practical. While alcohol use is socially accepted in our culture, we cannot ignore its public health and safety impacts. And as communities struggle to deal with problems related to substance abuse in general, the opening of marijuana bars would bring many more challenges for them to address and only add to the existing problems.
Among the many concerns raised by establishments offering on-site marijuana consumption are safety and security on the premises, the handling and oversight of cash transactions, how establishments will acquire and track the product, and the potential illicit sales and diversion of marijuana to youth, as well as the health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke, and the impact on quality of life in the community.
Massachusetts continues to struggle with how best to address impaired driving, especially with marijuana. Lay police officers have been deemed unqualified to offer an expert opinion as to whether a person is under the influence and impaired by marijuana, yet this model would consider a “budtender” or server capable of making this determination. While many alcohol servers are trained in identifying intoxicated persons, I am not aware of any such training program for marijuana servers. OUI is a significant public safety concern, and on-site marijuana consumption will only exacerbate it.
Ultimately, lawmakers and local communities will resolve how on-site consumption establishments will proceed. However, Massachusetts does not need to rush in to implement this business model, which has been largely avoided in other legal states, and would create onerous and expensive regulatory oversight and compliance.
Some people may want to consume marijuana socially at an on-site establishment, but this should not be at the expense of public health and safety, which must remain paramount.
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As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.