A few weeks ago, I was in Seattle for the Cannabis Summit, organized by the Cannabis Alliance, an industry group of legal growers in Washington state.

Along with the exciting keynote speakers, there were fascinating and educational presentations on multiple aspects relevant to the cannabis industry, including botany, insects, neuroscience, law and politics.

What also came through quite strongly, however, was the concern that small growers are being threatened by the big money people who care nothing about the plant, just the money.

In the process of ending cannabis prohibition and building a responsible cannabis marketplace that supports the community, central issues will be the government regulations for grow facilities and social consumption lounges.

Social consumption lounges, aka, cannabis cafes, the equivalent of bars for alcohol. Beyond simply providing a place to use cannabis outside of their homes, since renters may be prohibited from smoking/vaping cannabis, how state regulations address this issue has implications for aspects of economic inequality in the growing cannabis industry.  California has legalized social consumption lounges, with the Bay Area predictably ahead of the pack

The regulations that state governments pass directly affect whether big money is privileged in the licensing process and this developing industry.

It is vitally important to have state governments protect the interests of small growers in their state—residents who are, after all, state residents. Washington state gives us an example: a BOTEC report initially said that two million square feet of canopy—essentially, a certain number of plants–was enough to grow enough cannabis annually to satisfy demand in Washington state.

Limiting the amount of cannabis that could be grown each year makes sense from a policy standpoint, as it can help prevent over- or under-supply of cannabis, thus stabilizing the market.

Limiting the size of individual grows would also be a way of protecting small growers from being overwhelmed by large, often out of state, interests. This limit on total canopy is the rule that the Washington state Liquor and Cannabis Board adopted. Then, the the LCB licensed everyone who applied, which ended up approving close to 20 million square feet, some in huge grow facilities.

Small growers playing by all the rules, testing for contaminants, managing energy consumption, and so on, are all compliant with health regulations, and they are at risk of going out of business because of government regulation that privileges very large grow operations, only possible with huge investments.

I talked to growers who had higher health and safety compliance standards than most of the agricultural growers in the state. And I heard stories of massive grow facilities being approved by regulators. And just today it was reported that cannabis regulators were meeting in closed meetings, preventing any transparency in their decision making.

All of this really hit me when I got back to Massachusetts. I’m friends with various growers, and I have seen their dedication and community spirit, particularly on the online medical cannabis growers group I belong to. Massachusetts-born, lifelong residents–they are trying to build a business here in Massachusetts. They have an opportunity to make a great life for themselves and for the employees they can hire, if they are given the chance to succeed. If they are not driven out of business by outside money.

Here is where the social consumption laws are so relevant. Small craft growers of cannabis who are fully compliant with all health and safety regulations, should be allowed to sell samples of their product to be used at their locale. Wineries up and down the West Coast offer wine tasting. There is widespread agreement that the risk of impairment from alcohol is substantially higher than it is for cannabis. “Cannabis-impaired driving” is often raised as a reason to oppose legalizing and regulating social consumption lounges; this is an important issue, and we’ll discuss this in a subsequent post.

Back to the conference in Seattle, there was no place for any participants who wanted to smoke or vape cannabis since public consumption is illegal and use instead the hotel was also prohibited.  There are no social consumption venues in Washington state.