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Panel submits recommendations for cannabis cafés and home delivery rules in Massachusetts

After more than a year of haggling, two key pieces of Massachusetts recreational cannabis program may be about to materialize. A subcommittee under the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has submitted recommendations related to regulations for home delivery and social consumption in the Bay State.

In late December of 2017, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission filed the first draft of regulations for the state’s recreational marijuana program with the Secretary of State’s Office. The draft outlined the details of more than 80 policies which were were hammered out in public hearings and meetings in the weeks leading up to the event. However, two particular policies related to important pieces of the state’s recreational cannabis program which were originally included in the initiative passed by voters were left out of the regulations for fear that the governor would veto the bill. Those were home delivery and cannabis cafés.

On Wednesday, a panel studying these issues drafted several recommendations which were submitted to the Cannabis Control Commission for consideration. The importance of these two aspects of the state’s cannabis program cannot be overstated.

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Cannabis cafés

The panel approved cannabis cafés by a vote of 5-2. Cannabis cafés are retail establishments where individuals are permitted to smoke marijuana in a social setting. If the existence of these establishments is approved, Massachusetts would be the first and only state east of Colorado to allow social consumption.

However, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and many law enforcement officials have expressed concerns about the threats that cannabis cafés pose for public safety and public health.

[Federal bill H.R. 420 may change the political course of cannabis in the United States]

Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael, one of two panel members who voted against social consumption, fearing cannabis cafés will lead to an increase in stoned driving. Police representatives in the subcommittee also said they expected cannabis cafés would be targets for robberies.

One of the issues being addressed is that under Massachusetts cannabis rules, landlords are allowed to ban smoking in their buildings, and most are expected to do so. In one of its recommendations related to social consumption, the subcommittee writes, "In light of the need for cannabis consumers who live in public housing to have a legal place to exercise their right to smoke cannabis, and in light of the historic racial disparity in cannabis law enforcement in Massachusetts, social use establishments should be permitted so that consumers have a legal place to consume cannabis outside of their own homes.”

Some of the more critical issues considered by the panel include the risk of cafe patrons getting high and driving, accidental overconsumption, and health risks. To combat these risks, the panel recommends actions such as encouraging the use of ride-hailing services, requiring cafés to stock low-THC products, requiring cafés to provide educational materials outlining health risks and hazards of over-consumption, and prohibiting those under 21 from being allowed in the cafés.

Alaska is currently the only state to legalize cannabis cafés statewide. However, in Colorado, cannabis cafés can be approved or banned on a city-by-city basis. Nonetheless, being the only state east of Colorado to allow social consumption areas could make Massachusetts’ cannabis cafés a popular tourist attraction.

On a side note, the panel’s recommendations also include a provision for awarding temporary licenses for cannabis events which would be similar to event-specific liquor licenses.

Home delivery

The panel also recommended the state allow for home delivery of marijuana including licensing delivery-only businesses. Currently, only California, Oregon and Nevada allow home delivery of marijuana.

As with pot cafés, this plan also has its critics, including panel member and Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael who fears allowing home delivery poses big risks for drivers, saying "delivery-only is a tragedy waiting to happen," and predicting, “people are going to get robbed." Other panel members claim that such licenses empower entrepreneurs with less capital to get a foothold in the industry.

What’s next?

The subcommittee has submitted its recommendation to the state’s five-member Cannabis Control Commission for final consideration. According to CCC Press Secretary Maryalice Grill, current regulations will need to be amended by the Commission to allow cannabis lounges and home delivery.

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Several retail shops are open in Massachusetts with many more being planned. Cannabis sales in Massachusetts are expected to top $1 billion by the end of 2020. According to a study released by the Department of Public Health, the state’s recreational marijuana market is expected to produce $216 million in tax revenue in these first two years..

What affects allowing cannabis cafés and home delivery in Massachusetts will have on Northeastern states remains to be seen. All of Massachusetts’ neighbors are working towards following in Massachusetts’ footsteps and instituting regulated recreational cannabis markets. Maine has already legalized recreational cannabis, but lawmakers are still working on setting up the rules for retail sales. Vermont has legalized marijuana but has yet to pass legislation to create a regulated market. They’re working on that. Three other New England states, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut are planning to follow suit, as is the state’s neighbor the west, the great state of New York.

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