Assembly sees a new bill to legalize cannabis cafes

The Cannabis Bakehouse Store in Amsterdam, Netherlands, is one of dozens of such establishments in the European city where customers can legally consume food with their cannabis purchases on the premises. An attempt to create similar businesses in California was vetoed last year, but Assemblymember Matt Haney, who sponsored the legislation, thinks this time it could succeed, bringing billions of dollars to the state in the process. (Google image)

State Assemblymember Matt Haney is rebooting his attempt to bring Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes to his district and the state.

The San Francisco Democrat said now is the time for California to be at the forefront of what could be a billion-dollar tourist industry that would rival the state’s wine draw.

Haney had previously introduced such a bill last year, which passed both the state Assembly and Senate, but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom out of concern for smoke exposure to employees.

The new proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 1775, “empowers cities to choose to allow Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes where Californians can enjoy food, coffee, and entertainment while enjoying cannabis,” Haney’s office said Thursday.

Haney said he is working with Newsom’s office and the state Department of Cannabis Control to address the concerns of creating an environment for employees that protects their health. His proposed legislation would allow for cafes to spring up where legal cannabis smoking already exists, not the other way around.

“To be clear, we are not saying that coffee shops should be allowed to sell cannabis,” he said. “We’re saying cannabis shops should be allowed to sell coffee.”

The 2023 bill that was vetoed would have allowed dispensaries to add on cafes with local government permission. According to Haney, “consumption lounges” are currently legal in the state, but dispensaries are barred from offering non-cannabis items like food or coffee.

Haney said that last year’s bill garnered broad support from lawmakers, and indeed, it passed the Assembly with a 66-9 vote and the Senate with a 33-3 vote.

“The bill was widely seen as an attempt to level the playing field for the highly taxed and regulated cannabis industry that is being forced to compete in California with a thriving cannabis black market,” said Haney’s office.

In 2022, the Department of Cannabis Control said that the state’s illegal market generated $1 billion in sales. The California Tax and Fee Administration cited $5.3 billion in legal sales for that same year, down just over 8 percent from 2021.

Citing 2020 numbers, Haney’s office paints an even bleaker picture. According to the assemblymember, legal sales for that year generated $4 billion, with an estimated $8 billion made in the illegal market.

“It’s really about fairness and supporting businesses that follow the rules,” said Haney in a statement released by his office. “If we keep allowing unnecessary regulations to strangle California’s legal cannabis businesses, we’re just encouraging illegal drug sales and all of the problems that come with that.”

Haney said that the Netherlands was successful in countering its illegal cannabis market when it legalized its iconic cafes in the 1970s. These cafes — in a country 10 times smaller in size than California — also generate about $1 billion in tourist revenue every year, he said.

Should Haney’s new bill pass the Assembly, Senate, and ultimately the governor’s pen, each city or county would determine whether to allow them in their jurisdictions. Haney said San Francisco and West Hollywood already have plans in the process of approval or in place to support such licensing.

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