Going Legal: Social Consumption in the Commonwealth

October 30, 2018

Warning: This is a long post.

 

One of my cannabusiness dreams is to create a chain of upscale lounges where adults can enjoy consuming cannabis along with fine foods, creative “mocktails” and exceptional entertainment in Massachusetts. Earlier this month I traveled to San Francisco to explore the city and, specifically, to do some R&D by visiting and experiencing businesses where adults could legally consume cannabis.

 

My first stop after touching down at SFO was Barbary Coast Dispensaries, the city's "premier recreational cannabis dispensary." Upon arrival a security guard checked my ID and my information was entered into their customer database. I was then welcomed over to the dispensary counter to buy cannabis products that I could consume on site in the adjacent consumption lounge.

 

The dispensary agent Andy, was very well informed about the products. After answering my questions and completing my purchase, Andy walked me over to the hostess at the adjacent consumption lounge so I could check in, borrow a lighter, and legally consume some cannabis in their consumption lounge.

 

But before I could enjoy my purchase in a public place without shame or fear for the first time in my life, the hostess asked several questions to ensure my consumption experience was safe and enjoyable. I was asked if I’d recently traveled on an airplane, when I’d last eaten, how was I feeling overall, and was advised to drink plenty water – questions no liquor stores or bars ask their alcohol-consuming customers. She also asked me to let them know if I’d felt I’d consumed too much; safety was the priority.

 

I grabbed a glass of water, sat down on the lounge’s comfortable leather banquette seating, and lit up. Ah, sweet freedom!

 

There were televisions airing CNN, luxe red damask wallpaper, and plenty of comfortable seating options for the 15 or so individuals consuming cannabis in the lounge with me. The powerful air ventilation system kept the room clear, and tobacco smoking was forbidden, allowing guests to exit without smelling strongly of any smoke. This was especially appreciated since back in Massachusetts, cannabis consumers are often stuck smoking in their cars, or they must endure cigarette and cigar smoke in private smoking lounges.

 

 

But not all California lounges allow actual smoking: At Magnolia in Oakland, customers may only vaporize or eat marijuana products on site. Their facility is set up similarly to a café with several tables and chairs for people to settle into either while waiting to make their purchase or after purchasing on the other dispensary side of the facility.

 

Massachusetts towns have these and other operating models to learn from and build upon. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel or wait for an arbitrary date for when “people are ready” to witness adults consuming cannabis in public at licensed social consumption facilities. Voters passed Question 4 in 2016 in good faith that legalization includes access not just to buy cannabis but to consumption as well – and for all adults, not just those who own private property.

 

I’m stuck scratching my head wondering, why legalize something all adults can purchase but only some can actually consume legally? Why bastardize social consumption of cannabis products when social consumption of a deadly, rage-inducing substance like alcohol is so widely accepted, supported, and in many cases glamorized?

 

There are currently 1100 liquor licenses in Boston alone. With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting nearly one in ten adult deaths attributable to excessive drinking, and zero deaths attributable to the overconsumption of marijuana, it is a short-sighted failure and disservice to cannabis-consuming adults in the Commonwealth to delay the licensing and opening of facilities where we can legally consume our cannabis purchases.

 

Nearly 40% of households in Massachusetts are rentals, and landlords are within their rights to prohibit smoking of any kind. Adults living in government-subsidized housing cannot legally consume cannabis in their homes. And, just like with drinking alcohol, many adults want to socialize with cannabis outside the home and away from the kids.

 

So I went ahead and submitted a letter to the Cannabis Control Commission begging them to prioritize establishing social consumption regulations and reasonable zoning for “marijuana cafes” for the benefit of renters, parents, tourists and other individuals looking for a comfortable, legal place to consume marijuana – and a safer alternative to alcohol bars which intoxicate its patrons and assume little responsibility for the resulting traffic accidents, domestic abuse and other crimes that result from alcohol consumption.

 

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that, “because alcohol use is legal and pervasive, it plays a particularly strong role in the relationship to crime and other social problems. Alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes today, and according to the Department of Justice, 37% of almost 2 million convicted offenders currently in jail report that they were drinking at the time of their arrest.”

 

These disturbing figures just don’t translate to cannabis use. As I often say, “cannabis chills, and alcohol kills,” because we have the data. Now we have an opportunity here in Massachusetts to take an honest look at that data, to learn from and improve upon social consumption regulations and locations like those I experienced in California, and to create licensing and reasonable zoning for cannabis consumption facilities and mixed-use businesses so adults have a safe place to legally consume a safer alternative to alcohol.

 

And this isn’t just about not providing true access to cannabis for the individual consumer. Delays in licensing social consumption businesses also:

 

  • harm the licensed businesses cultivating and processing cannabis products by limiting the types and numbers of businesses they can sell to

  • perpetuate the proven-wrong misperceptions and exaggerations about the harms of marijuana use by continuing to treat it like a disgraceful and indecent vice of derelicts that should be hidden from sight

  • prolong the negative stigma against people who consume cannabis by shaming cannabis users like myself into finding obscure or unsafe places to consume cannabis

  • prevent adults from being able to emerge from the shadows to consume this legal and safer alternative to alcohol

 

Delays feed amply into the “Reefer Madness” ignorance that remains because elected officials and others with influence insist that social consumption licensing be delayed or removed from consideration. It’s 2018. Cannabis is legal now and businesses should be able to open to provide safe and entertaining places for adults to consume cannabis openly. By creating licenses for safe, comfortable and enjoyable social consumption facilities, the CCC will truly bring our cannabis regulations and legalization full circle because people will actually be able to consume their cannabis purchases.

 

Have something to say to the CCC about social consumption? Email them at CannabisCommission@State.MA.US 

 

 

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