State looks to legalize cannabis cafes

(Rigo Moran)

New bill would allow dispensaries in California to sell food, drinks, etc. as well as offer live music in a fashion akin to Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes; awaits governor’s signature

SACRAMENTO – If Gov. Newsom approves AB 374, Californians could soon enjoy cannabis products while they dine out.

Assemblymember Matt Haney, 17th District, introduced the bill, which passed in the senate on Sept. 7 and passed in the assembly on Sept. 11. Based on cannabis cafes in Amsterdam, AB 374 would allow cannabis retail stores in the state to sell food, drinks and have live entertainment. Gov. Newsom has until Oct. 14 to sign AB 374 into law.

According to Haney’s statements in a news release, some people might want to enjoy legal cannabis in the company of others. Not only that, some crowds might want to do that as they are enjoying a cup of coffee, eating a scone or listening to music.

“If an authorized cannabis retail store wants to also sell a cup of coffee and a sandwich, we should allow cities to make that possible and stop holding back these small businesses,” Haney said in the news release.

According to Haney, AB 374 will allow struggling cannabis businesses to expand upon the marijuana-only dispensary model and bring tourist dollars to downtowns experiencing economic downturns.

Robert Moreno, who works for the dispensary Element 7, disagreed with Haney’s assessment that the industry is oversaturated; however, he did agree that cannabis cafes would boost sales. The company has cannabis dispensaries in eight locations in California. It recently applied for a license in Parlier but the city council voted against it.

Moreno conducts community outreach, focusing on veterans and facilitates licensing for the company. He said he believes everyone in the industry would be in favor of retail locations serving food and drinks, provided it is a controlled environment.

“I would like to see cannabis lounges for adults only,” Moreno said. “You don’t have kids drinking in bars. Same thing here.”

STREAMLINING THE PROCESS

“To be clear, we’re not saying that coffee shops should be allowed to sell cannabis,” Haney said in the news release. “We’re saying that cannabis shops should be allowed to sell coffee. It shouldn’t be illegal for an existing cannabis business to move away from only selling marijuana, and instead have the opportunity to grow and create jobs by offering coffee or live jazz.”

Customers may legally consume cannabis products at dispensaries but it is illegal for cannabis retailers to sell food products that are not infused with cannabis. According to Haney, AB 374 simply removes this prohibition.

According to the bill’s text, cities and counties would be required to pass legislation authorizing cannabis cafes to operate within their jurisdictions. Local governments would be responsible for creating the permitting process and the regulations that govern these establishments.

OVERSATURATION

Statewide, the cannabis market is oversaturated with products. Haney said illicit sales are hurting the industry.

“California’s small cannabis businesses are struggling,” said Haney. “Issues like oversaturation, high taxes and the thriving black market are hurting cannabis businesses who follow the rules and pay taxes.”

According to Haney’s press release, in 2020, California’s legal cannabis sales reached $4 billion; black market sales exceeded $8 billion.

Conversely, there are over 700 cannabis cafes in the Netherlands and they are thriving. These cafes take in over €938 million annually.

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