Although medical marijuana has been legal in the Bay state for over a decade since voters agreed upon a ballot measure in 2008, many residents still have uneasy feelings regarding cannabis, especially since recreational marijuana became legal in 2018.
When Massachusetts voters legalized cannabis for adult use, they ushered in the first sales of recreational cannabis on the east coast, which began in earnest last November. As of January 2019, revenue from recreational sales in the state topped $24 million.
With all that weed going around, some residents weren’t quite as used to the smell of cannabis smoke as others. According to the law, cannabis legally purchased from approved dispensaries must be consumed in a discreet, private manner. Most typically, this is done in the residence of the user.
The recreational law is simple enough, but after years of illegality, marijuana smell has become associated with a crime, causing many concerned citizens to make nuisance complaints on marijuana users with “strong odor,” often wasting time and resources.
Many people still believe it’s illegal to use cannabis within your residence in Massachusetts, associating cannabis smoke with crime, or at least something which warrants 9/11 nuisance calls. Many, including the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, believe that “marijuana lounges” may help reduce these calls.
So what’s the deal with these nuisance calls? If cannabis is legal, why are the police still spending time and resources on it?
Although recreational laws in states like Massachusetts and Nevada permit adults to purchase cannabis, that doesn’t mean they may smoke it anywhere they like. If the smoke draws public attention, police may confiscate your cannabis. But don’t think they want to! Legalization was supposed to save them time as well.
Marijuana nuisance calls have been taking up valuable time and resources from narcotics officers in legal states like Massachusetts
For example, when our web master and cannabis culinary extraordinaire, Jeff the 420 Chef, visited a New England bar last year, he happened upon two young men who were narcotics officers, visiting New Hampshire for training.
Upon leaving the bar to smoke, they asked Jeff if they could join him and his friend to share a cigarette. After learning who they were, Jeff said no, because his cigarettes were FreeLeaf, a cannabis product that leaves no detectable odor. Jeff didn’t want the two officers to fail a drug test, and he knew his cigarette appeared like nothing out of the ordinary to them.
In fact, his friend stood there smoking a FreeLeaf joint right in front of the officers, but they couldn’t smell it.
“No way,” one of the officers said when Jeff told them his friend was smoking cannabis, “she doesn’t smell like weed at all.” Jeff’s friend quickly assured them she was indeed getting high from the cigarette.
The other officer turned to Jeff and said, “If that’s true, then you just solved one of our biggest problems, which is the nuisance call,”
His partner let out an audible sigh at the very mention and concurred, “those calls are such a waste of time.” They went further to mention that despite legalization, they still received nuisance phone calls from neighbors upset about “strong marijuana odor,” often wasting valuable time and resources in the process.
“Our resources can only go so far,” the first narcotics officer maintained, “and people are always calling the cops on their neighbors.” If there were odorless cannabis, like FreeLeaf, the two may see less calls, they concurred.
However, until FreeLeaf odorless cannabis hits the mainstream, legal communities must take steps to remove the stigma surrounding legal cannabis. So, how have other legal markets tackled this problem?
Canada legalized cannabis in 2018 and authorities were proactive about changing the social norms regarding cannabis smoke
In similar fashion to Massachusetts, when Canada legalized cannabis on a national scale in the same year, Canadian police stations launched a public awareness campaign urging citizens to, “stop snitching” on their neighbors for pot.
In a series of tweets by the Toronto Police Department, the campaign compared cannabis calls with other bogus 9/11 calls, like asking what to do with frozen meat during a power outage, or calling the police because you’re lost. Each tweet ended by mentioning that, “Cannabis is no longer illegal on October 17, 2018.”
According to Canadian police chief Mark Saunders, the tweet campaign aimed to save time and resources for his officers, as he acknowledges, “This change represents a significant transition not just for [authorities] but for all Canadians,” and he believes, “Going forward it is important for everyone to take the time to educate themselves on legalization.”
Massachusetts legalized cannabis only a month after Canada did. However, even after officials changed the laws, they realized they would also have to change the social norms surrounding cannabis, despite legalization being approved by a majority of Massachusetts voters.
Following the ramp up to legalization in November of 2018, a number of cities either banned cannabis sales outright or held a moratorium on them, some of which have only just expired.
In what may serve as a catalyst to prevent wasted resources from nuisance calls, and further improve social norms surrounding cannabis, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission voted in a 3-2 decision last week to, “[explore] the possibility of licensing social-consumption sites for marijuana.”
These social consumption sites would provide an avenue, much like a bar, where cannabis may be purchased and consumed by adults aged 21 and over, without the smoke being broadcast to nonsmokers. Not only will these provide new business opportunities, but they will help normalize cannabis in Massachusetts.
Social consumption sites will reduce nuisance calls while change social norms regarding cannabis
Before pot cafes come to every corner, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission will hold a trial period in 12 volunteer communities, including Amherst, North Adams, Provincetown, Somerville and Springfield.
This will allow state regulators to review applications and grant licenses in the trial communities for social consumption areas, or cannabis cafes. In these cafes, adults may buy and consume marijuana in public. The plan also provides details for “event host licenses,” which would allow cannabis at one-time gatherings like outdoor concerts.
The plan aims to put the opportunities first and foremost into the hands of those Massachusetts citizens most affected by former marijuana laws, like minorities, by giving them first priority when hearing bids for licensing.
Marijuana cafes and lounges aren’t just confined to the east coast either. West Hollywood recently began granting licenses for public consumption sites, including one to Jeff and his team, who aim to open BudBerry Cannabis Lounge in late 2019.
While an encouraging start, marijuana cafes are still far off in Massachusetts. The actual licensing requirements must be finalized, with a number of regulations that still require mapping, and many other factors wait in limbo.
That being said, the approval of public consumption trials helps encourage cannabis normalization, which can help build the industry and save valuable time and civic resources.
About the Author
Chris Matich is a professional writer, journalist, and editor living in Pittsburgh, PA. Chris blogs for Schenley.net. His writing interests include LGBT+ people/issues, sports writing, and blogging. Chris currently writes about web optimization, blogging practices, medical cannabis, and cannabis lifestyle. He writes fiction and creative nonfiction in his spare time. Linkedin, Twitter