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Calif. is poised to OK Amsterdam-style weed cafes

Dispensaries would be allowed to sell foods and beverages for on-site consumption, and feature live entertainment, under a bill heading for Gov. Newsom's signature. It also allows pot users to light up on-premise.
California weed restaurants
The state wants to give its dispensaries the option of functioning more like cafes than retail outlets. | Photo: Shutterstock

Marijuana dispensaries in California would be allowed to branch into on-site food and beverage sales in a cafe-like setting if a measure passed handily by the state legislature is signed into law as expected by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Pot shops would also be permitted to allow on-site weed consumption and showcase live entertainment. Supporters say the aim is to make the stores more like Amsterdam’s famed cafes, where patrons can buy and indulge in marijuana products along with their lattes and stroopwafels.

Proponents say the measure would also boost the dispensaries’ sales and thereby bolster sales-tax revenues for the state.

But there are significant restrictions in the California bill. The sale of alcoholic beverages would be prohibited, and foods or beverages containing THC, the ingredient that delivers marijuana’s high, cannot be among the products offered for on-site consumption. The food and beverages would have to be showcased separately from all THC-laced products.

Admittance to the cafes would be limited to adults over age 21, the current threshold for dispensaries.

The state regulations would also be subordinate to local laws. Towns, cities and counties could continue to ban any pot shops from operating within their boundaries.

The measure passed both chambers of the state legislature by considerable margins: 66-9 in the Assembly and 33-3 in the Senate. Yet it’s already stirring controversy.

Opponents say the law works against long-standing efforts within the state to counter the health risks posed by cigarette smoke. Instead of breathing in secondhand smoke from someone’s Marlboro or Camel, residents could find themselves inhaling smoke from a pot store, they contend.

The state law notes that local jurisdictions can enact laws to lessen consumers’ exposure to secondhand smoke from dispensaries.

Currently, pot smoking is banned in all public places within California. Some dispensaries have worked around that prohibition by opening private rooms, out of view of passers-by, where patrons can light up.

Other opponents have noted that the law allows dispensaries to function like coffee cafes, but the latter are expressly forbidden from offering THC-laced products. By design, they say, the playing field is tipped in pot vendors’ favor.

Still, Newsom, a Democrat, is expected to sign the legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Proponents point out that West Hollywood has permitted its marijuana shops to function as cafes since 2018 without catastrophe.

In addition, other areas are loosening their restrictions on pot stores, which tend to be highly regulated. The town of Tilton, Ill., has OK'd the opening of a cannabis “complex” called Molly’s Joint on Saturday.

Shops that violate California’s revised regulations would be given notice that their license could be revoked in 60 days.

A start date was not specified in the law.

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