Massachusetts Advisory Board Recommends Cannabis ‘Social Consumption’ Policy


Social cannabis consumption reform is part of what I refer to as the ‘second phase’ of legalization. Just because a legalization measure is approved by voters (or soon legislatures!) does not mean that the battle to legalize cannabis is over. Far from it. Voters called for marijuana to be regulated like alcohol in the states that have approved legalization initiatives, and until social cannabis consumption is allowed cannabis will never be truly regulated like alcohol.

For those that are not familiar with social consumption or social use reform, the concept involves allowing cannabis to be consumed outside of public residences, but not in public view. Bars allow alcohol to be consumed on their premises, as do events. So too should cannabis be allowed to be consumed in a social setting in a reasonable manner. Do to clean air laws, and a heavy dose of reefer madness, social cannabis consumption is prohibited in most legal cannabis states.

That causes a whole host of issues, especially for tourists and patients, people who rent from unfriendly landlords, and people that live in Section 8 housing. Most hotels do not allow cannabis consumption at their properties, landlords can discriminate against cannabis users, and people in Section 8 housing risk having their assistance revoked due to federal law. Cannabis consumers in those situations can legally purchase cannabis, but do not have a place to legally consume it.

That leads to many people consuming cannabis in public places, which then leads to fines by law enforcement. As data shows, public cannabis consumption enforcement has a disproportionate impact on minority communities, as pointed out by retired NBA All-Star Clifford Robinson in his public testimony in support of a social use bill that was introduced in Oregon:

First, people of color are still disproportionately arrested and cited for marijuana offenses in legal states. A study of Seattle police enforcement’s arrest of public cannabis consumption has found that African Americans made up 36% of those arrested, while only comprising 8% of the city’s population. Racial disparities also have remained in Colorado as African Americans make up just 4.2% of the state’s population, but over 12% of the state’s marijuana arrests. Studies have shown that marijuana is used at the same rate across all races, so these arrest statistics are very troubling.

Secondly, adults in Oregon should have the ability to utilize cannabis responsibly, but landlord-tenant agreements, particularly Section 8 housing, limits the ability of many Oregonians to use cannabis in the privacy of their own homes. Again, these rental restrictions disproportionately impact communities of color and Oregonians battling poverty, without the financial means to purchase their own home.

Low-income neighborhoods are likely to have more police patrols, leading to more marijuana charges for public smoking levied against people of color and those who can afford arrests and costly tickets the least. Senate Bill 307 is a sensible step forward to help avoid falling into the same pattern of African Americans disproportionately arrested and cited for marijuana, even in states that have legalized cannabis.

Unfortunately, SB 307 did not pass in Oregon, but it will hopefully be re-introduced and passed in the next session. Robinson’s testimony was in support of an Oregon bill, but the points he made are applicable in every state, including Massachusetts. Massachusetts is exploring the idea of allowing social cannabis use and received recommendations on the issue this week via an advisory board. Below is more about the recommendations, via CommonWealth Magazine:

At a meeting of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission on Tuesday, members of the agency’s advisory board pitched regulators on regulations covering on-site “social consumption” of marijuana – think bars serving pot rather than alcohol. The advisory board members said pot bars would help keep the drug out of the hands of minors and aid in monitoring and limiting the level of consumption.

Michael Latulippe, development director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance and a member of the advisory board, suggested to the commission that having places where people could consume cannabis in smaller amounts would circumvent the problem of parents buying bulk quantities and bringing it home where it could be accessed by children. Pot bars could also cater to tourists, who may want to buy and use pot but cannot if they are staying in hotels or inns that prohibit the use.

“The package store model is old-fashioned and the consumer really wants a place to consume cannabis and do it safely,” Latulippe said. “By giving them a safe place, it could resolve that issue. We have some quite interesting solutions to the problem, some elegant solutions to the problem.”

Only time will tell if the recommendations are adopted by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, but I sincerely hope that they are. If adults can purchase cannabis for adult use, they should be able to have somewhere to safely and legally consume it. I sat in on a public hearing for Oregon’s social use bill, and the two main arguments made against such reform fall into one of two categories. The first is the ‘what about the children’ argument, and the second involves worries about stoned drivers leaving social use venues.

Considering that children will not be allowed where social cannabis consumption is permitted, the first argument against social cannabis consumption is moot. No one is proposing that people should be able to use cannabis in social settings that are frequented by children. Advocates are actually arguing for the opposite – to allow social cannabis consumption to help keep cannabis use away from children.

As for fears of stoned drivers, regulators can look at two places were social use is already permitted. Denver and Oakland both allow social cannabis consumption at places that are permitted for such activity. I have yet to see a report indicating that there has been a spike in DUIIs related to social use in those areas. Cannabis opponents often rely on scare tactics of what ‘could happen.’ That ship is sailing away as social cannabis consumption reform continues to work in Denver and Oakland. Hopefully, Massachusetts and other states get on board and enact reasonable regulations to permit social use. I am going to be traveling to Boston sooner than later, and would like to be able to consume legal cannabis in a legal setting. Fingers crossed!

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