An employee of NETA in Brookline shows off some of the store’s product called Bruce Banner. The Cannabis Control Commission narrowly approved a pilot program that will allow some establishments to become pot cafes, where people can smoke the product in addition to purchasing it. (Nancy Lane / BOSTON HERALD)
Pot cafes have moved closer to sprouting up all around Massachusetts with the cannabis commission’s narrow approval of the controversial concept.
The board voted 3-2 Thursday to allow a social consumption pilot program for a dozen such cafes, despite lingering concerns about stoned driving from police chiefs and legislators.
“Until we have mechanisms in place to detect individuals driving while inhibited by marijuana, this is dangerous,” Chelsea police Chief Brian Kyes told the Herald. “We’re definitely concerned.”
Pot panel members said the cafes will initially be limited to economic empowerment businesses — low-income areas targeted to boost opportunity — along with micro businesses and co-ops.
The pilot program can’t start until regulations are established, which could be voted on at the end of the month or could be pushed back until the fall. The pilot as it currently stands allows for up to 12 cities — who elect to join — to award cafe licenses once regulations are officially put in place.
While commissioners are still working out details around ventilation, marijuana is only allowed to be smoked outside at the cafes. Certain vapes and edibles would be permitted inside.
Commissioner Britt McBride, who voted against the plan along with Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan, expressed concern about approving cafes before the state takes a deeper dive into police enforcement of drugged drivers.
“I continue to have concerns that the sequence of this is all wrong,” McBride said at the commission meeting. “I don’t think that we should be allowing social consumption unless and until the state addresses the ability to better detect marijuana impairment. … The potential for harm outweighs the potential for good that could come out of us moving ahead with this.”
Mike Crawford, a cannabis reform activist and former member of MassCann/NORML, said cafes would take pot users — who he says are currently smoking inside their cars to prevent potential evictions in their apartments — off the road.
“The more places we provide, the less chances people will drive,” Crawford said. “This is an important issue. People have to have a place to smoke. The more local access we have, the less stoned driving.”
Tito Jackson, a former Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate who is the CEO of a marijuana company, agreed.
“We have a precedent for social consumption — it’s called a bar, it’s called a restaurant,” Jackson said. “There’s a real opportunity to have a thoughtful regulated industry here. Massachusetts is not the first to legalize this.”
wPot cafes are allowed in Alaska, Denver, Las Vegas and a few cities in California.