Marijuana delivery services — and maybe even cannabis cafes — are inching closer to reality in Massachusetts.
The Cannabis Control Commission on Tuesday voted to approve draft regulations that would allow both business types in the state, though with significant restrictions.
The agency is expected to sign off on modest tweaks to the rules at a meeting Thursday before kicking off a formal public comment period. Final revisions and votes to implement the policies will probably occur in September.
Under the proposed plan, licenses to operate pot delivery companies and cannabis cafes would be reserved for local entrepreneurs whose small businesses already hold “microbusiness” or craft cooperative licenses from the agency, plus participants in the commission’s economic empowerment and social equity programs.
After two years, any company could apply for permission to deliver — unless the commission determines the ban on larger out-of-state firms needs to be extended for the agency to meet its statutory mandate of creating an inclusive industry.
Proponents hailed the licensing policy as giving disenfranchised entrepreneurs a realistic pathway into a heavily regulated industry that typically necessitates millions of dollars in startup capital and has so far been dominated by large, wealthy players.
“Approving social consumption and delivery today was a major milestone and victory toward equity,” Commissioner Shaleen Title said. “It’s a major step towards the vision of an industry that has room for . . . small and locally owned businesses.”
Delivery operations are expected to be far cheaper to start up, with the biggest expense being a vehicle equipped with lockboxes and cameras, and officials hope the exclusivity policy will steer investment to the eligible groups.
The companies, however, would be subject to tight controls.
Delivery firms under the proposal could not buy wholesale quantities of marijuana and resell it. Instead, they would essentially function as on-demand couriers, picking up pre-packaged orders from brick-and-mortar retail pot shops, bringing them to homes, and checking the customer’s identification at the door.
To be eligible to place delivery orders, customers who don’t have state-issued medical marijuana cards would have to first visit a retail shop to “pre-verify” their age and identity.
And deliveries could not be made to towns that have banned marijuana shops, while every transaction would be videotaped with a body camera — controversial provisions that the commission reaffirmed Tuesday despite Title’s objections.
Deliveries could also not be made to hotels, dorms, or federally subsidized housing.
It remains unclear when deliveries might begin, though it’s conceivable the commission could begin accepting applications this year if regulators approve the license type in September.
The road to any cannabis cafe ribbon-cuttings appears far longer and less certain.
For one thing, legislators must first tweak state law to let municipalities “opt in” to hosting such businesses.
And the commission’s regulations for now envision only a small pilot program, with cafes opening in just a handful of municipalities that volunteer, so regulators can collect data on the operations and improve their rules before rolling out cafes statewide.
The agency also postponed until the fall consideration of event licenses that would have allowed chefs, wedding planners, yoga teachers, and concert organizers, among others, to apply for one-day marijuana licenses akin to those available for alcohol.
The cafes being contemplated would allow the consumption of edibles and cannabis vaporizers in ventilated indoor areas, while smoking would only be allowed outdoors and with municipal approval. They could also make and sell non-marijuana-infused food. The businesses would have to present detailed safety plans on how they will avoid overserving consumers and help impaired customers get home without driving.
Proponents say the facilities would give marijuana consumers who cannot smoke at home a legal place to consume a legal product.
“There’s going to be comfortable seating, there’s going to be service, and people are going to be able to sit with friends and consume legal marijuana products,” said commission chairman Steve Hoffman, who voted to approve the facilities along with Title and Commissioner Kay Doyle. “What the environment is going to be like — whether they’re going to play classic rock or jazz — that’s up to the entrepreneur. But they’re going to be comfortable places for people to [safely] consume . . . products that have been lab tested, that are labeled appropriately. We’ve done everything we can to ensure that it is a safe experience.”