Immediately Allowing Marijuana Cafes And Theaters Is ‘Irresponsible’ And ‘Dangerous,’ Massachusetts District Attorneys Say

Photo Credit: Brennan Linsley

Massachusetts prosecutors are sounding the alarm and asking state marijuana regulators to hold off on allowing marijuana in restaurants, theaters, yoga studios and restaurants.

“Immediately allowing marijuana in restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, spas and yoga studios is irresponsible, ill-informed and dangerous,” Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey, writing as president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said in a letter to the Cannabis Control Commission.

Their comments echoed what Gov. Charlie Baker said earlier this week in pushing for the commission to focus on ensuring retail pot shops open this summer, instead of allowing marijuana cafes and similar operations within the same timeframe.

The five-member commission should take a “slow, cautious and restrictive approach to marijuana business development,” the prosecutors’ letter said.

Legalization proponents say a restrictive approach will lead to inequities in the new industry, and they argue that a less restrictive one allows people, who may not have as much money as bigger marijuana industry players, to get involved.

Commissioners are touring the state as they weigh draft regulations for oversight of the new industry. Voters created the commission and broadly legalized marijuana for people age 21 and over through a 2016 ballot question.

The prosecutors, who opposed the ballot question on legalization, are also looking for regulations that “expressly prohibit home delivery” and sale of marijuana, arguing that allowing it would make it difficult to enforce and allow people under the age of 21 to obtain the controversial substance.

Overall, they said, new businesses beyond the retail pot shops increase risks to public safety.

“We have security concerns for these businesses, their employees and their customers,” Morrissey wrote. “Moreover, these businesses heighten our concerns relative to such issues as operating under the influence, increased marijuana access by persons under the age of 21, theft and diversion to the black market.”

The prosecutors argued that regulators should keep the scope of their proposed rules narrow because there is no established way to determine whether someone is operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

They also pushed concerns over marijuana amounts and limits, as well as stronger rules around background checks for suitability of marijuana licenses.

Jim Borghesani, who worked on the ballot campaign to legalize marijuana, said he expects the commission to “consider all viewpoints and make wise decisions” based on voters’ desire for a regulated cannabis system.

“As with any strong-demand product, what isn’t offered by the regulated market will be offered by the illicit market,” he said in an email. “That’s a truism that may not be sufficiently recognized by the DA’s Association.”