Massachusetts voters moved to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in November 2016, but the state’s Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) still hasn’t decided how to handle bars and restaurants that wish to host special events at which they serve marijuana-infused food and beverages. The Boston Licensing Board (BLB) recently put venues on notice, threatening the revocation of liquor and food licenses for any venues not in compliance.
“All holders of a Common Victualler or Alcoholic Beverages License issued by the board are formally on notice by the board of the illegality of such an event,” the advisory reads. “Any business which hosts such an event at its Licensed Premise does so at the peril of any license issued by the board.”
The CCC voted Thursday to approve a pilot program that would grant Massachusetts venues infused event licenses for social consumption of marijuana-infused food and beverage, but to this point it still hasn’t issued any clear guidance or regulations. The city of Boston will not be participating in the program.
The uncertainty — especially in Boston — is fomenting confusion and fear among business owners dealing in the world of edibles.
“Unfortunately the lack of information and regulations from the CCC are putting everyone in the cannabis event space in between a rock and a hard place,” Sam Kanter — the owner of Dinner at Mary’s, which offers diners a marijuana-infused dining experience — told Eater via email. “The CCC is suggesting a pilot program for social consumption, but the city of Boston has opted to not participate, which is disappointing.”
Boston is more concerned with dispensary licensing and with determining what kind of an impact marijuana cafes and delivery services will have on the city. It means business owners like Kanter will have to look elsewhere.
“The city of Boston is too focused on dispensary licenses to prioritize social consumption, which means that other cities and towns will need to lead the charge — and that’s where we are going,” Kanter told Eater. “We hope our guests will follow us wherever we need to go to make these happen and that Boston will play catch-up when it does place a priority on social consumption.”
None of this confusion had to happen, because social consumption was originally on the table. In 2017, the CCC wrote in a draft that a “marijuana social consumption establishment may purchase marijuana from licensed marijuana establishments and sell single servings of marijuana to consumers for consumption on the premises.”
The CCC ultimately decided to vote against including language allowing for such social consumption in the final version of the regulations, which were published in March 2018. A spokesperson with the CCC told Eater via email that decision was “based on feedback they received during the subsequent 10 public hearings that were held statewide on the regulations and from nearly 500 public comments.”
Though the commission voted to eliminate social consumption licenses, the CCC did agree to revisit the matter and eventually created a working group to look more closely at the impacts social consumption licenses would have on communities across the state.
In October 2018, the Commission unanimously approved the following motion relative to creating a working group on social consumption.
To direct the executive director to seek interested participants for a working group on social consumption. The working group will consist of two commissioners and 5-10 municipal leaders (mayors, city councilors, selectmen, town managers, town administrators, town planners, or health officials) who are interested in implementing social consumption in their locality and believe the city or town they represent would participate in a pilot program. The purpose of the working group is to collaboratively establish a framework for a pilot program regulating marijuana establishments allowing on-site consumption of cannabis for the consideration of the legislature, Commission staff, and municipalities who wish to participate. The group will examine feedback submitted to the Commission from the Cannabis Advisory Board and other public health experts, public safety experts, legal experts, prospective entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders, and will solicit additional feedback as necessary.
That group met again Thursday and voted in favor of issuing licenses for cannabis cafes and social consumption events. The program will be launched in a dozen municipalities, not statewide.
Of course, none of this will happen overnight — CCC commissioner Kay Doyle said the state won’t begin to issue these licenses until November 2020, and Secretary of State William Galvin told the commission new regulations will need to be written before further steps are taken.
So for the time being, dispensaries, restaurants, and bars are not legally permitted to host events where marijuana-infused food or beverage is being served. If they do, they risk losing their licenses.
Operators — and consumers — are at the mercy of the CCC and the licensing board that put them on notice, and it will be well over a year before cannabis cafe licenses begin trickling out.