Going slow on cannabis cafes can’t be a good thing

From left, Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman, and Commissioner Shaleen Title listen as former city councilor Tito Jackson speaks during a public meeting on draft regulations for the pot industry during a public hearing in Dudley Square. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Metro, adamsd)
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Cannabis Control Commission chairman Steven Hoffman and commissioner Shaleen Title listen to former city councilor Tito Jackson during a public meeting on draft regulations for the pot industry during a public hearing in Dudley Square.

Memo to the Cannabis Control Commission: Nature abhors a vacuum.

Sure, there is much to be said for deliberation and caution as Massachusetts expands into the sale of recreational marijuana. And surely that has been the approach in the granting of retail licenses to date — count ’em, two. And, yes again, the commission was smart — certainly politically so — to delay its planned foray into pot cafes until it sorted through its first round of actual retail licenses.

The hue and cry from Beacon Hill — from Governor Charlie Baker and legislative leaders — at the idea of cafes, pot-enhanced yoga sessions, or watching a Cheech & Chong marathon at the local cineplex with an actual joint in hand was enough to make the commission halt its plans for an earlier roll-out dead in its tracks.


Now the commission believes, based on a staff report it received earlier this week, that so-called social consumption of marijuana may be years away.

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Some will, of course, applaud that as just another bullet dodged — for now.

The problem is, however, that endless delay is more likely than not to foster any number of end-runs around official policy. That can’t be a good thing — not for law enforcement, already faced with how to deal with a legal yet intoxicating substance, especially on the highways. And not for those communities impacted by the war on drugs who were promised a piece of the cannabis cafe pie and its profits.

The staff report focused on how other states that have legalized recreational marijuana are dealing with social consumption. No surprise perhaps that California, home to any number of vineyard tasting rooms, allows the same concept for marijuana in conjunction with retail outlets. Las Vegas, also true to form, is considering hookah-style lounges next to stores.

Just as typically, some of Massachusetts’ barriers to social consumption are unique to Massachusetts.


First of all there is the “opt in” provision of the original legislation that requires community approval via a referendum to allow cannabis cafes or any other form of on-
premises consumption. No such procedure currently exists in state law. Baker filed a change to that law back in March as part of a supplementary budget. It remains where it has been since March — in the hands of the House Ways and Means Committee.

So this one’s all on the Legislature to fix.

And, of course, there are the host of anti-smoking laws aimed at making lighting up a cigarette as difficult as possible — for all the right reasons. But that which has put cigar bars on the endangered species list has come back to bite those aiming to be budtenders at the local cannabis cafe. Even so, a cafe serving gummies and brownies doesn’t have the panache of a hookah lounge.

The Cannabis Control Commission certainly didn’t create these problems, but it is still faced with finding a way to implement the spirit of the voter-passed law.

“There will be social consumption eventually,” commissioner Shaleen Title said at a recent meeting. “But it’s not happening tomorrow.”


The commission’s immediate thought is to set up a pilot program for a few communities that have a particular interest in cannabis cafes. However the ingenuity of cannabis entrepreneurs isn’t about to be put on hold while the commission sorts through its options. Title pointed to a “ganja yoga” event in a calendar listing. Worcester already has a members-only BYOC club. Puff, Pass, and Paint (yes, that’s a thing) has fall events scheduled in the greater Boston area.

The ingenuity of cannabis entrepreneurs isn’t about to be put on hold indefinitely.

The social consumption train has already left the station. Problem is, the commission is letting it leave without any of the regulatory brakes in place it should have.