Customers smoke marijuana at the Original Cannabis Café in Los Angeles in 2019. (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)
Californians are just one signature away from Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes opening across the state sometime next year.
The legislation headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for final approval would allow weed dispensaries to convert their businesses into cafes where they can sell food and cannabis products and host live concerts. The bill was approved by the California Senate on Monday by 33 votes to 3 and by the Assembly by 66 votes to 9.
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), said the legislation would allow struggling dispensaries to generate more sales tax revenue for the state.
Although it is not technically illegal for customers to consume cannabis at a dispensary, it is illegal for a dispensary to sell non-cannabis products such as coffee or food.
Assembly Bill 374 would allow dispensaries to move away from pharmacy-like business models to more lucrative business models. The bill would not allow cannabis cafes to serve alcohol, and coffee shops would not be able to sell cannabis. Dispensaries still must comply with local jurisdictions and cannot operate where weed shops are prohibited.
The café model will give dispensaries another tool to serve customers, Haney said.
“Many people want to enjoy legal cannabis in the company of others,” Haney said in a statement. “And many people want to do this while drinking coffee, eating a scone, or listening to music. There is no economic, health or safety reason why the state should make it illegal. If an authorized cannabis retail store wants to sell even a cup of coffee and a sandwich, we should allow cities to make that possible and stop crippling these small businesses.
There are more than 700 coffee shops throughout the Netherlands that sell cannabis, Honey said, and the businesses generate more than a billion dollars in sales each year.
Haney said his bill is simply aimed at replacing medical-marijuana culture with a more casual, social setting similar to those Dutch cafes.
“There’s a huge opportunity to bring people into these establishments to consume cannabis safely and legally and create community and culture at the same time,” Haney told The Times.
The city of West Hollywood started its own cannabis lounge program in 2018 with a limited number of licenses. But Haney said current rules hinder those businesses from operating, because lounges are not allowed to prepare food on-site.
In West Hollywood, cannabis cafes are using workarounds to serve food and drinks. At Artist Tree Dispensary & Weed Delivery on Santa Monica Boulevard, marijuana smokers can hang out in the second-floor lounge as if dining at a restaurant. People can order food from Fresh Corn Grill, a restaurant that has a deal with Artist Tree.
“So we have plated meals available. “We’re mimicking the experience of being in a restaurant, even though we’re not actually selling food,” said Lauren Fontaine, co-owner of Artist Tree. “We just have to tweak the process to get there.”
Although the experience is great for customers, Fontaine said, the proceeds go to the restaurant, not his business.
“This is a big problem, which is why this bill is so important,” he said. “Food and beverage is a huge part of the revenue plan, and we are no longer able to take advantage of that.”
Dispensaries can’t thrive because they try to compete with restaurants, bars and the illegal market, Haney said.
“The current laws are arbitrary and irrational,” he said, “and clearly harmful to the legal cannabis industry we need to survive and thrive in our state.”
If approved by Newsom, the cannabis café legislation would go into effect on January 1.
Times staff writer Noah Goldberg contributed to this report.
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the LA Times and beyond delivered to your inbox six days a week.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.