By Timothy Naimi June 20, 2018

Until now, recreational marijuana use policies in Massachusetts have been tipped in favor of the increasingly powerful marijuana industry. But there is still time for public officials to act on behalf of the majority of Massachusetts citizens who don’t (and won’t) use marijuana even when it’s legal — and to better safeguard the well-being of those who do (and will) use it. Unfortunately, many important areas of recreational marijuana policy are lax, while others aren’t covered at all by existing laws and regulations.

One critical policy area that was initially proposed by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission — and will be revisited later this year — is allowing public establishments where marijuana can be consumed on-site. This could include places like pot bars, movie theaters, yoga studios, and massage parlors. Allowing on-premise consumption will make marijuana use more visible, socially acceptable, and glamorous to youth. Research shows that cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants played a major role in the normalization of tobacco use. After smoking in bars and restaurants was prohibited, there was a substantial reduction in youth smoking statewide.

Smoking marijuana in public is an in-your-face dimension of recreational marijuana that exceeds the implied intent of Question 4, the 2016 state ballot question that legalized cannabis for adult use. If approved, Massachusetts would be the first in the nation to allow social consumption of marijuana in licensed establishments statewide. On-premise consumption would also increase the risk of marijuana-impaired driving by shifting more pot use to public locations. Patrons of these establishments would likely drive home when levels of THC the most important intoxicating chemical in cannabis — will be highest. (Although THC can last in the blood for days, levels are generally highest from 30 minutes to two hours after smoking.)

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