The issue of establishing cannabis smoking lounges has been recently addressed by the commonwealth’s Cannabis Control Commission and that topic is the next hurdle for the government to overcome.

It’s not going to be easy.

State House News Service reporter Chris Lisinski recently wrote, “The ballot question legalizing recreational marijuana use that voters approved in 2016 included language authorizing marijuana consumption ‘on the premises where sold’ and at special licensed events, but cannabis cafes have yet to open to the public nearly seven years later.”

The commission recently eliminated a pilot program about smoking lounges to instead focus on permanent rules and regulation that could make the new businesses happen quicker.

Lisinski wrote, “Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, who also served on the social consumption working group, said Monday that the process of standing up and running a pilot program with the new law now on the books would be ‘both burdensome and expensive.’
“‘Right now, to help direct our work, we don’t feel that the pilot program is needed as it’s written. So, help us take that work off our plate,’ Stebbins said. ‘Our feeling is that eliminating the pilot program will help us dive in to building that licensing and regulatory framework.’”

Stebbins, you might recall, is a former Springfield City Councilor.
Right now, there is only one cannabis smoking lounge in the state, the Summit Lounge in Worcester. I wrote about it in 2018. It is a private members-only club where anything that is legal to smoke in the commonwealth – tobacco and cannabis – can be enjoyed there.
The distinction is you can not buy any cannabis products there. Members bring in their own.

What is currently being discussed now is essentially a cannabis bar: you buy the product and you use it there.

I like the idea of these lounges being private members only establishments regulated by both the state and the local governments.

The elephant in the room, though, is how can the person behind the bar, so to speak, regulate who is getting high and how high are they? Law enforcement and the justice system are currently grappling with this issue.

As numerous law websites will tell you, we have the technology to test for impairment due to alcohol. We have established limits to indicate if a person is drunk. We currently don’t have technology to scientifically establish if a driver is impaired by cannabis.

Police officers who have pulled over a driver can perform a field sobriety test and while I’m sure experienced officers know what they are doing in this regard, the issue is that without something such as breathalyzer for cannabis, the charge of operating under the influence is more complicated.

I was a bartender for a few years and I enjoyed it until I realized that I was being held responsible for making sure someone didn’t leave the bar drunk. Especially in a large or busy lounge, how can you really keep track of how much someone is drinking or what is their level if impairment? It’s not easy and can only be done with the support of management and wait staff, something I did not have.

With my own experience in mind, the question is for a budtender – see what I did there? – what kind of training and technology would be necessary to keep people safe?

Now granted many people have told me the difference between someone smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol is the pot smokers tends to be docile and the drunks can either be happy, maudlin or violent. Still while that makes cannabis users appear to be easier to handle, they are still impaired and still should not drive.

Considering all that, one also must wonder about the cost of liability insurance for a cannabis smoking lounge. Would there be a training protocol all budtenders would have to take that is like the TIPS training for anyone selling alcohol in bars and restaurants? I imagine so.

I do believe cannabis smoking lounges should happen but it must be established with the rules that protect the lounge owners, the budtenders, the patrons and the public.

G. Michael Dobbs has worked for Reminder Publishing for 22 years of his nearly 50-year-career in the Western Mass. media scene, and previously served as the executive editor. He has spent his time with the publisher covering local politics, interesting people and events. The opinions expressed within the article are that of the author’s and do not represent the opinions and beliefs of the paper.

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