The Cheers of Cannabis Cafes – Massachusetts Plans New Pot Cafe Rollout

May 30, 2023 · Cannabis.net

Regulators in the Massachusetts marijuana industry made a decision this past Monday to abandon previous plans for a limited pilot program involving cannabis cafes and social consumption sites in twelve municipalities. One official said this move would help get the voter-approved market sector online “a little quicker.”

The Cannabis Control Commission changed course from earlier restrictions that would have limited the launch to a dozen cities and towns nine months after a new state law defined a procedure for cities and towns to permit on-site usage of cannabis products.

In contrast to the current retail establishments that have been operating for years, CCC personnel will now begin to develop a regulatory framework giving permits to sites where customers will be able to buy and consume cannabis products on the premises.

Shifting Focus to Regulatory Framework and Longer-Term Questions

Commissioner Nurys Camargo, a member of the working group that proposed the change in approach, emphasized that dropping the pilot program would enable municipalities to decide whether they want to embrace social consumption. This shift allows regulators to focus on addressing long-term industry concerns rather than being consumed by the operation of a limited pilot program.

Camargo explained that while this adjustment serves as a parallel track to expedite the creation of social consumption opportunities, it should be noted that the implementation process will still take time. With removing the pilot project, the commission can now concentrate on defining the regulatory framework, determining licenses, and envisioning what social consumption will look like. Camargo highlighted the potential delays that a pilot license could introduce to the regulatory process, with the likelihood of being entangled in regulations for several years.

The decision to eliminate the pilot program language received support from Commissioners Ava Callendar Concepcion, Camargo, Stebbins, and CCC Chair Shannon O’Brien. However, O’Brien voiced her concerns about unresolved issues related to secondhand smoke, impairment, and ensuring the success of equity applicants, microbusinesses, and craft cooperatives. O’Brien stressed the importance of getting these aspects right during the exclusivity period to avoid hindering opportunities for those involved.

Commissioner Kimberly Roy abstained from voting, citing insufficient information regarding public safety, public health, and equity impacts. Roy cautioned that well-intentioned initiatives such as delivery operators, microbusinesses, and craft cooperative farmers could encounter challenges or fail to achieve their intended goals.

In the final vote, all other commissioners voted in favor of eliminating the pilot program, signaling their agreement with the decision. This collective support indicates a unified stance within the commission on moving away from the limited pilot program approach and focusing on developing a comprehensive regulatory framework for social consumption in the marijuana industry.

Background and Concerns Delaying Cannabis Cafe Launch

Voters supported a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use in 2016, including language allowing marijuana use “on the premises where sold” and at special regulated events. However, over seven years later, public cannabis cafés have not yet opened.

When then-Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey expressed concerns about the speed of the rollout in 2018, and regulators put the breaks on. Baker was succeeded in the governor’s office by Healey.

In addition, Baker spent years trying to change the state’s drugged driving rules but ran into opposition in the Legislature.

In 2019, the CCC’s working group proposed starting a pilot program for social use, and officials also decided that the Legislature needed to alter state law to give cities and towns the framework they needed to permit on-site cannabis use. This modification was included in a comprehensive measure Baker signed last year that also strengthened regulation of host community agreements between marijuana firms and towns.

Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, who also served on the working group for social consumption, stated on Monday that implementing and maintaining a pilot program under the newly enacted statute would be “both burdensome and expensive.”

Voters supported a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use in 2016, including language allowing marijuana use “on the premises where sold” and at special regulated events. However, over seven years later, public cannabis cafés have not yet opened.

When then-Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey expressed concerns about the speed of the rollout in 2018, and regulators put the breaks on. Baker was succeeded in the governor’s office by Healey.

In addition, Baker spent years trying to change the state’s drugged driving rules but ran into opposition in the Legislature.

In 2019, the CCC’s working group proposed starting a pilot program for social use, and officials also decided that the Legislature needed to alter state law to give cities and towns the framework they needed to permit on-site cannabis use. This modification was included in a comprehensive measure Baker signed last year that also strengthened regulation of host community agreements between marijuana firms and towns.

Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, who also served on the working group for social consumption, stated on Monday that implementing and maintaining a pilot program under the newly enacted statute would be “both burdensome and expensive.”

Stakeholder Perspectives

Equitable Opportunities Now, an organization dedicated to empowering individuals of color in the recreational marijuana sector, had previously urged regulators to shift their focus from a pilot program to a “comprehensive, equitable, safe, and healthy onsite consumption licensing and regulatory framework.”

Expressing their gratitude, EON Policy Co-chair Armani White acknowledged the leadership of Commissioners Camargo and Stebbins and the thoughtful deliberations of the entire Commission. The group looks forward to collaborating with them to ensure that this exciting new license type generates meaningful opportunities for communities that the war has disproportionately impacted on drugs.

Bottom Line

Regulators in the marijuana industry have chosen to abandon the limited pilot program for cannabis cafes and social consumption sites. Instead, they will focus on developing a comprehensive regulatory framework for social consumption in the voter-approved market. This decision aims to expedite the launch of social consumption opportunities and provide clarity for municipalities and businesses involved. While concerns have been raised regarding issues such as secondhand smoke and equity, the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) is determined to address these challenges and ensure a fair and safe environment for all stakeholders. The move signifies a unified stance within the commission and marks an important step toward establishing a thriving social consumption sector in the marijuana industry. (Full Story)

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