North Bay cannabis operators back California bill to allow food, music at dispensaries

A bill introduced into the state Legislature this month would allow marijuana dispensaries to create a bar-like atmosphere where people could enjoy cannabis in any form, get a bite to eat, have a non-alcoholic drink, and listen to music, all at the same time.

“It would be similar to a bar or restaurant where you can hang out and enjoy food and drinks, though non-alcoholic. We would love to be able to offer food and beverages at our retail outlet,” Angelica Sanchez, director of government affairs and compliance for Perfect Union dispensary in Napa, said. “We would expand products and wouldn’t be pigeonholed into selling only cannabis products. On-site consumption lounges are the future.”

Current California law allows lounges today as long as cannabis consumption is on site and the activity cannot be seen from any public space, no one younger than 21 is partaking, and neither alcohol nor tobacco is being consumed. However, cities and counties have to agree.

That would also be the case if the bill to expand services, Assembly Bill 374 by Assemblyman Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, is approved.

“We would hope if the state approves it, that the local jurisdiction would follow,” Sanchez said.

She would not venture a guess as to what the city of Napa’s response might be, but said Perfect Union will be writing a letter of support for the proposed law and will advocate for Napa to mirror state regulations.

Eli Melrod, founder and CEO of Solful, which has locations in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, said with the proposed state bill being so new it’s hard to forecast what the cities and counties would do if it became law.

“Assuming the cities are even open to exploring the idea, there will be all kinds of conditions around it,” Melrod said.

While Melrod’s dispensaries don’t have space for on-site consumption today, he said it’s something to consider if the law allowed it.

“What we see in AB 374 is to allow cannabis consumption to be more normalized. Normalized to the extent alcohol is normalized,” attorney Joe Rogoway with the Rogoway Law Group in Santa Rosa told the Journal. “It should be treated one in the same and policies should reflect that. That is what we see with AB 374.”

Rogoway believes municipalities should be enacting state marijuana law and not prohibiting residents from enjoying what their neighbors can.

“Sixty-five percent of the state doesn't have licensed retail (cannabis) because localities don’t allow it. I think localities should already allow all the conduct allowed by state law.” This includes consumption.

Four governments in the Bay Area and North Bay currently have some provisions. Santa Rosa, Mendocino County, Oakland and San Francisco allow on-site consumption as long as it’s not smoked — so edibles and topicals are permissible, according to Lauren Mendelsohn, senior associate attorney with Omar Figueroa law firm in Sebastopol.

Ukiah may be added to the list. That city’s Planning Commission on Feb. 8 was expected to vote whether to allow on-site consumption.

“I don't see (AB 374) as very controversial given that the Department of Cannabis Control recently amended Section 15407 of their regulations to say that licensed retailers and microbusinesses with cannabis consumption areas may permit the sale of prepackaged, non-cannabis-infused, non-alcoholic food and beverages as long as the local jurisdiction approves. Furthermore, this kind of activity is already happening at many of the consumption areas that do exist across the state,” Mendelsohn told the Journal.

Section 15407 covers the “sale of non-cannabis goods.” Changes the department made in November took effect immediately. The proposed state law essentially codifies what the agency has already done.

“It’s better to have it written into statute versus just having it be in some regulation,” Mendelsohn said. “So, it’s making clear to cities and counties how to regulate this type of use.”

While allowing music is part of the proposed state law, there is nothing today other than local permitting that would preclude cannabis venues from having music, according to Mendelsohn. The law would remove any ambiguity about it.

“If AB 374 passes, I anticipate more jurisdictions adopting ordinances that specifically address cannabis consumption areas, followed by the establishment of such spaces across the state to serve both locals and visitors,” Mendelsohn said. “Cannabis consumption lounges are ideal event venues and community gathering spaces, which often occur at alcohol establishments despite ample science about the harms of alcohol.”

What the law won’t do is allow cannabis to be sold anyplace new.

The assemblyman’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment, so it’s not known why he believes his bill will pass considering similar attempts have failed before.

In the past, the American Heart Association and American Lung Association have voiced concerns about laws that expand where cannabis can be consumed. Neither national group was available for comment.

Jim Keddy, executive director for Youth Forward, an advocacy group wanting to keep cannabis out of kids’ hands, is also concerned about laws like AB 374.

“Secondhand marijuana smoke is similar to secondhand smoke from tobacco. We have worked very hard to not allow for indoor tobacco smoking. Cannabis has the same negative impact on people,” Keddy said.

His other concern is with people driving while high.

“Some cannabis takes a while to feel the effects, like edibles,” Keddy said. “They may feel OK at the time and drive home, but once the edibles kick into gear we know some folks simply won’t be safe on the road.”

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