Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission Chair Steven Hoffman. Credit: Submitted / Mass. CCC

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission expressed support for licensing social consumption sites for recreational cannabis last week, but called on the state to first fix a legal loophole that prevents them from doing so. The commission voted 4-1 to approve the proposal during a Jan. 20 meeting.

The state law that confirms the legality of recreational cannabis also stipulates that local municipalities can dictate whether or not they allow social consumption, in a designated location, by opting in through voter petition. The only problem is that the law does specify an exact method for such a petition. Basically, voters are allowed to approve social consumption, but there is no legal method for that approval.

Kimberly Roy, appointed to the CCC by Republican Governor Charlie Baker, was the sole hold-out opposing the regulatory change. 

During the same meeting, the commission agreed to support updating state laws that would crack down on drivers under the influence of cannabis. This law enforcement update was intrinsic to any update on social cannabis consumption according to Roy.

“Until the legislature acts on OUI [Operating Under the Influence]. I struggle with social consumption sites,” she said. “I feel like it’s putting the cart in front of the horse.”

Despite the concerns expressed by Roy, CCC chair Steve Hoffman stressed that public consumption was already authorized by the state’s adult-use cannabis laws, but an existing legal misunderstanding is all that stands in the way of legitimate legalization.

“This is a literal technical fix,” said CCC chair Steven Hoffman during the Jan. 20 monthly meeting of the CCC.

The CCC previously approved rules for social consumption in early 2018, but stalled the process after public comment concerned with legalizing too much at the same time.

“We got an enormous amount of push-back from senior elected officials and public safety officials,” said Hoffman. “The gist of which was essentially, ‘Why don’t you learn to walk before you run?’ We listened to that and we took social consumption out of our original regulations.”

The policy proposal, which was pitched years earlier, would allow a set number of municipalities to host social cannabis consumption sites. The municipalities for each of these locations would have to opt-in to allowing the site through public petition.

Also at the Jan. 20 meeting, commissioners agreed to support an update to laws that would penalize drivers operating under the influence of cannabis. The fact that this issue was presented alongside a potential update for public consumption was not lost on Commissioner Nurys Camargo.

“Social consumption is important to our equity applicants.” she said. “It’s important for neighborhood associations that are calling on our city councils and state representatives when it comes to folks using our parks. It’s for folks in public housing. It’s for folks that do not have places to consume their medication or recreational choices.” 

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...