Consumption of cannabis has long been a social activity. Ancient nomadic tribes burned cannabis in fire pits for ceremonial purposes. Marijuana "tea pads" in the 1920s resembled opium dens or speakeasies, except that prices were very low (you could get high for a quarter if you smoked it there). In the ’60s and ’70s, hippies gathered together and passed around a joint while standing in circles telling stories, sharing ideas and laughing a lot. Throughout the height of prohibition—during the ’80s and ’90s—people still shared cannabis at concerts while listening to their favorite groups.
Fast forward to 2020 and soon we will be seeing what Cannabis Consumption Areas can offer patients in New Mexico.
Licensed non-profit medicinal cannabis producers (LNPPs, for short) are waiting to be able to apply for additional on-site areas in their dispensaries designated for cannabis consumption. The Consumption Areas were scheduled to go into effect July 1 under a law passed last year by the New Mexico legislature. The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act Amendments allow for consumption areas in dispensaries owned and operated by LNPPs. The smoking, vaporizing and ingestion of medical cannabis products by qualified medical cannabis patients will be permitted within these consumption areas once the rules are finalized.
Unfortunately COVID-19 happened and threw a monkey wrench into the whole plan. Once the cannabis consumption area rule is finalized by Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel, LNPPs will be required to submit safety and security plans—including compliance with ongoing COVID guidelines—to open a consumption area for approval. The LNPP application period is currently closed, and the DOH is not accepting applications from businesses interested in producing and distributing medical cannabis at this time. That means existing producers are the only businesses able to apply to operate consumption areas.
Marissa Novel, chief marketing officer at Ultra Health Producers that operates 20 dispensaries in New Mexico, believes the state has an incredible opportunity to provide something the United States cannabis industry has rarely seen today. “We believe access to medication is a human right. Ultra Health consumption areas will be safe and secure while offering entertainment, arcade games, snacks and fun surprises along the way.”
LNPPs will have many regulatory hurdles to climb before they can implement consumption areas, however, and creating one will not be an easy process. Access to these areas must be restricted to qualified patients and their caregivers, and cannabis consumption cannot be visible from any public place or from outside the dispensary. Anyone consuming cannabis in a consumption area must have a verified designated driver or use “other lawful means of transportation” when leaving.
Application plans must also include educational materials about the dangers of driving under the influence of cannabis. Minors must be accompanied by their primary caregiver at all times while on the premises of a consumption area. Dispensaries must also include their method of disposing wasted cannabis and related paraphernalia that was used in the consumption areas.
Consumption Areas, even under the best of conditions, will be a work in progress as the state and LNPPs prepare to jump through hoops, invent more rules and hopefully work together to finalize a much-needed space for their patients. While the areas are for ingestion of cannabis medicinal products, the bottom line is these areas exist to offer a legal space to consume and also offer support for their patients’ needs while they are there.
But many questions will have to be answered. Will patients need to book ahead and reserve a spot to imbibe? What kind of waiver will they sign? Will non-alcoholic beverages be offered for sale? Will classes be offered? Is chair massage offered to further their relaxation experience? Will there be a fee to consume cannabis products in the Consumption Areas? Will there be a separate area where those who want to smoke can do so? Will they use high-powered ventilation systems? Will there be free Wi-Fi? And finally, how do they deal with ongoing COVID regulations?
Consumption Areas will provide New Mexico’s medical cannabis patients, and reciprocal patients from other states, a safe harbor to legally vape, smoke or eat cannabis products when their landlords, hotels or B&Bs do not allow cannabis consumption on the premises. As in past times, these “green space” areas could also provide them with a place to socialize and share stories and information with other patients.