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Reefer madness: lawmakers want to rescue underperforming cannabis stores
Correct Dennis Wyatt mug 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Imagine, if you will, the State of California making it legal for local jurisdictions to have cigarette lounges where patrons could puff away while eating non-tobacco laced food and non-alcoholic beverages.

It would be sheer madness to even be suggested.

But substitute cannabis for tobacco and you get almost every member of the California Assembly to agree it’s a great idea.

That is exactly what happened May 20 when the Assembly voted 49-4 in favor of legislation giving cities the ability to allow cannabis cafes where guests could inhale while enjoying non-cannabis laced food and non-alcoholic beverages.

You might argue people can go to restaurants and imbibe alcoholic beverages.

And since alcohol and cannabis are considered by many to be interchangeable, what’s the big deal?

There’s even research out there that contends more Americans use marijuana than drink alcohol.

But there is a difference. It’s called second-hand smoke.

It is why the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and the American Heart Association have all come out against the concept of cannabis cafes.

The state spent decades working to severely limit cigarette smoking in areas of public accommodation such as restaurants and venues, workplaces, and such.

It has everything to do with health concerns and the discomfort of others that don’t smoke.

It is why Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar bill in October.

Clearly, those who chose to patronize a place where cannabis can be consumed along with food and non-alcoholic drinks have no problem taking in second-hand cannabis smoke.

But what about the workers?

Newsom vetoed the previous bill because it violated the tenets of California’s laws regarding smoke-free workplaces.

The author of the current bill, Assemblyman Matt Haney who hails from San Francisco, says the new bill addresses Newsom’s concerns by prohibiting marijuana smoking or vaping in areas of cannabis lounges where food is being prepared and stored.

As such, it would create a separation between areas where customers are consuming alcohol and work areas.

Close, but no cigar.

What about people who serve tables and such?

This is where reefer madness, the Sacramento version, comes into play.

The reason why cannabis dispensaries should enjoy special carve-outs of state laws governing workplace conditions is because it involves cannabis.

It’s the reasoning of a madman.

And how does Haney square things up?

In his own words as uttered on the floor of the Assembly, where many strange contorted trips of reasoning take place without help from substances, legal or otherwise, Haney said the following:

“This is a bill that supports our legal small businesses that just want to diversify their business and do the right thing. The illicit market is continuing to grow and thrive, while our legal cannabis market struggles.”

Or, freely translates as Congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted in 2019 about another subject, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”

The illegal market — which can include legal home grows allowed by the state that has become side hustles “selling” cannabis to friends — isn’t taxed from here to eternity.

And now that the state has allowed legal cannabis operations that play by the same rules of PG&E and lobbies for state measures favoring their businesses, they are applying pressure to legislate rules — or exceptions to them —  to provide them with a financial advantage over the competition, legal or otherwise.

So what, if it involves backsliding on laws meant to protect the general public that includes employees in their place of work?

The argument doesn’t hold water that employees don’t have to work at a cannabis cafe preparing and serving food if they are worried about second-hand smoke whether it is cigarettes, cigars, cannabis or water.

It’s because the state would be saying it’s OK to discriminate in the hiring process to screen out potential candidates who do not want to deal with second-hand smoke.

And if we’re honest, this isn’t about worker health or discriminatory hiring by excluding people from the job pool that don’t want to inhale second-hand smoke when California outlaws smoking the work place.

It’s about the government’s cut of the action. They aren’t getting as many Benjamins out of the cannabis legalization gig as was projected.

But that’s not even the hypocrisy. It is the California Legislature’s growing sentiment that legal cannabis is taxed too much and now it’s apparently regulated too much by workplace regulations to succeed against the black market.

You ever hear a self-respecting state lawmaker who is true blue openly pushing for tax rollbacks and carving out regulatory exemptions for other “small business” segments of the economy?

It’s mind-boggling to watch politicians keep a straight face when they list statistics that show taxes et al are making it an onerous challenge for cannabis operators to succeed in California.

You could find retailers in any segment of the marketplace that say the same thing.

Small businesses have a notoriously high failure rate. And a lot of those open up shop undercapitalized.

You may have noticed the concern is not with Embarc et al that has 15 locations in California. Clearly, Embarc is not failing. It is doing quite well with paying the taxes it does and is not seeking the ability to diversify their offerings by chipping away at workplace regulations.

Before anyone cries for the poor cannabis retailer and makes it a Goliath (drug cartels) vs. David (mom and pop cannabis stores) morality tale, they need to keep in mind how the Proposition 215 Kool-Aid in 2016 was served up to legalize retail marijuana sales in California.

• It was to improve public health and safety which it has by putting transactions on Main Street instead of in back alleys while tightly regulating what is sold.

• It was to raise additional tax revenue which it has but not to the degree projected or promised. But then again, high speed rail was supposed to cost $30 billion and not $120 billion and counting.

• It was promised to reduce marijuana-related crime, which it has as adults over 21 can legally grow or buy their own at a licensed cannabis storefront for their personal consumption and not run the risk of being cited or arrested.

• It was supposed to reduce the power of drug cartels et al, which it apparently hasn’t but then to be honest they don’t exactly fill out sales transaction forms and send the information to Sacramento or open their books to federal agents.

• It was supposed to create jobs, which it has although many of those selling legal cannabis could make more as soda jockeys at a fast food joint.

That said, not once was it implied that it would create a foolproof way for the small guy to start a retail business and be financially successful.

Make the case about cannabis cafes giving law abiding adults options to inhale in a group setting such as breaking bread, so-to-speak, with like-minded people.

Don’t argue that it is about helping the “little guy” succeed in business.

The reefer madness that has a stranglehold on Sacramento today has elevated cannabis almost to a sacred cow status, albeit heavily regulated and heavily taxed.

Now the only question is whether Newsom will stand-fast and not let reefer madness impair his judgment.

—  This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia. He may be reached at