While events like the Boston Freedom Rally might give the impression that Massachusetts has been cannabis-friendly for decades, the transition from legalizing medical cannabis use in 2012 to legalizing and implementing adult-use cannabis in the last two years has been gradual and regulations regarding events are slowly gaining traction. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) which is in charge of regulating everything from cultivation, production and sales to events, home delivery and consumption, has already held two meetings in January and two more in February that discussed and voted on social consumption regulations.
Currently, there is no accepted form of legal public social consumption in Massachusetts. And many cities like Boston have implemented city-wide smoking bans that don’t make distinctions surrounding what substances are being smoked. Massachusetts’ Smoke-free Workplace Law has been in effect for quite some time and defines “smoking” as anything that can be “combusted and inhaled”. This has prevented many business owners from being able to allow smoking of any kind in their establishments during hours of operation. But that hasn’t stopped organizers from finding creative ways to spread cannabis culture throughout the state.
One such exception is the only lounge of its kind in the state, Summit Lounge. Summit Lounge is a licensed social club in Worcester now in its second year of operation. It is a private smoking club that is members-only, and, under Massachusetts law, members-only establishments are exempted from the Smoke-Free Workplace restrictions, allowing them to permit members to smoke anything that is legal under state law. This loophole has proved controversial and has set the bar higher for other clubs who may be looking for similar exemptions with the intent of allowing cannabis consumption. “Even with legalization, the cannabis community didn’t have a space to come together and talk about the issues that they were facing,” recalls Kyle Moon, General Manager of Summit Lounge. The lounge was the answer, allowing a private, social atmosphere that was cannabis-friendly. Anyone who comes to the lounge must become a member, and there are various member tiers, ranging from day-use membership (club fees that are paid each time you visit) to monthly memberships with a mixture of monthly dues and use fees depending on how often you’ll frequent the venue.
Controversial as it may be, this loophole has also provided an avenue for organizers like Alva Cedeño to host events like High Tea, a regular meet-up where attendees can come to enjoy a curated cannabis-friendly experience. “The key thing to think about is ticketing for these types of events; You’re not buying cannabis. You’re not buying a ticket to an event where you are going to receive a cannabis product. You are buying a ticket to an experience,” remarks Cedeño of her High Tea events. Each ticket to tea includes a lifetime day-use membership to the Summit Lounge, access to CBD products like coffee, edibles and tea, and a showcase of vendors ranging from cultivators to educators. The lounge works with sponsors and organizers alike to host smoking and non-smoking, community-driven events. Organizers can request an event rental on their website.
Other organizers prefer to operate from the comfort of their own venues.Kush Groove, a lifestyle shop in Boston that sells smoke ware, glass and tobacco products, hosts weekly paint nights after hours that allow edible consumption for small groups of 10–15 people. These are private events and attendees must secure an invite, and the ticket cost pays for the paint night experience reminds owner Marcus Johnson-Smith. “You have to keep it private, in private location, after hours and after the business is closed; it is essentially listed as a private event space,” he explains. “We maintain that this is the same way you would have a dinner party with wine and beer and such.”
Because Massachusetts law has not outlined a business framework for consumption events, organizers must pay careful attention to the messaging surrounding their events, a point reiterated by fellow organizer Michael Dube, EP of The Cannabis Supper Club and agent to Eric Martin, a former NFL Patriots Football Player. “If you use the word cannabis or if you use a whole list of words [related to cannabis], it can be a death sentence for the event,” Dube explains. When he throws events, even with platforms like EventHi that are friendly to cannabis events, Dube must avoid a variety of words that are penalized on platforms like Facebook or Instagram. “People have to be creative about the words that they are using so that they can communicate that it is a cannabis-centric party that might be consumption-friendly, but they have to avoid certain words for it to get the reach. Messaging is key to describing the event.”
Many organizers have opted to mostly avoid consumption events in favor of networking and educational events. While these events are officially non-consumption, Dube admits that organizers still have a hard time preventing consumption from happening, even if it isn’t in the venue. Mobile party bus-style vehicles often park outside of events to allow attendees a place to spark up without standing on the sidewalk or in the street. Even with this workarounds, licensed sponsors don’t want part of the consumption scene due to the legal issues. Instead, Dube recommends organizers focus on the experience that is being billed.
“I try to throw the nicest parties I possibly can. Beautiful venues. As classy as possible. [These events] help with the normalization and breaking the stigma. [Aim to] have people leaving events thinking, ‘This is nothing like the debauchery that I thought a cannabis party would be.’” Because Dube’s events are explicitly non-consumption and focused on speakers, panels, education and unique experiences, he’s able to attract what he calls “John Q Public,” or the audiences that aren’t immersed in the “industry insider’s club”. “People aren’t going to come based on who is sponsoring but they will definitely come based on the talent that you have there. Speakers, moderators, keynotes, educational sessions, that’s what they come for. They come for that and the networking.”
“I try to have activations at events that people aren’t bothering to do,” Dube continues. “CBD is legal and experiential. I’ll have specialized CBD ice cream that is specific to the event and specific CBD mocktails, etc…stuff that your John Q Public that are non-cannabis industry people that attend these events can enjoy.” Admittedly, CBD is appreciated by those new to cannabis but often scoffed at by industry regulars. “The tried and true cannabis industry pros, especially those that might be working for a legal entity but they have been in the industry now for 5, 10, 20 years, they scoff at the whole CBD thing. They don’t scoff at CBD as a concept or as part of the plant-based medicinal stuff, but they scoff at the CBD edibles at the party like, ‘oh that’s cute.’ In the meantime, they know that unless it is an underground party, the only way to do consumption events in Mass is to keep it a secret which means John Q Public has no access and it’s really an insiders club of about 500 people in Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts Cannabis Event Quick Facts:
Working with Licensed Brands
Cedeño’s claim that events are moving more towards education, informational, non-consumption events is supported by the above data. “A lot of the events are open to the public and representatives for licensed brands will come in and talk about products that they have and give out samples out to get consumer awareness; you can give out samples under gifting law even in non-consumption settings.” Others reiterate the trend in non-consumption events but are more hesitant about permitting gifting of cannabis products, commenting on how out-of-state organizers, particularly those from the West Coast, aren’t accustomed to events where cannabis isn’t provided. “The west coast guys push for gift bags etc. but most people that come to these events come packing their own cannabis, so it’s not something where people are showing up and they’re like ‘oh no! no one is handing out weed here. Now I can’t smoke.”
And working with licensed brands can prove difficult as the market develops. Unlike California and other markets with mature industries and businesses that can afford to spend marketing dollars, Massachusetts companies are still in their early phases. “When it comes to larger events, even though we have over 50 dispensaries in Massachusetts right now, the sponsorship aspect is a very interesting thing to tackle,” discusses Dube. “The west coast prices for the same level [of sponsorship] I’m asking may be normal there; stuff has matured on the west coast, especially in the last 3–7 years, where profitable licensees are now in a place where they are willing to spend their marketing budgets to align with cannabis events. On the east coast, brands want to attend, but they don’t necessarily want to spend any money on it.” Moon reiterates this point, saying that organizers are still having trouble “finding actual legitimate sponsors, RMDs, adult use dispensaries, etc. Massachusetts is still not at the point where they can really sponsor a space or events like this [that allow consumption].”
Similar to markets like California, underground “farmer’s market”-style events are beginning to become less frequent, and are increasingly subject to raids where law enforcement seizes as much product as possible from unlicensed vendors and sponsors. Currently, there is no legal avenue for sales of cannabis products at events. As more and more brands distance themselves from the grey and black markets of years past, the legitimate event industry will continue to grow. With that being said, organizing cannabis events in Massachusetts right now isn’t an easy endeavor. “In Massachusetts, what is difficult right now is doing cost-effective events for most of the people to attend and yet still be able to break even on your event,” Dube concedes.
For now, our best advice is to keep the gathering small and private if you’re even thinking of allowing consumption, and you will likely want to avoid smoking as the main modality unless you qualify for exemptions like social clubs and smoking bars. If you’re not sure about consumption, consider an educational event that brings cannabis out into the open for discussion without the burden of potential legal risks of smoking or informing people in secret. Keep your advertising and messaging clear enough that attendees understand but vague enough that you aren’t raising red flags, and make sure that you can prove that an 85% majority of your ads’ audiences are of age.
Make sure your guests are following venue and state rules, and consider working with home producers and cultivators that may have excess personal product to gift as samples if you insist on having options for your guests. Lastly, consider partnering with venues rather than paying to use them; organizers like Dube have found that hosting one or two memorable events at non-traditional cannabis venues often brings regular business to those business owners, and can be the basis of a mutually beneficial arrangement.
If you’re considering hosting a cannabis event in Massachusetts, the EventHi team is here to help. We offer a safe-hosting environment for event creators across the United States to host, promote and sell tickets using EventHi’s platform. Let EventHi help you through the process. Get started by hosting your event today on EventHi’s marketplace.
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Written by Ben Owens, writer for EventHi.
- The above information is provided as a public service. It is not intended as legal advice.