Bill to allow Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes passes state Assembly

Assemblymember Matt Haney’s bill to allow local California governments to license Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes has passed out of the state Assembly with a broad bipartisan support — receiving a 64 to 9 vote. While cannabis cafes in the Netherlands capitalize on the social experience of cannabis by offering coffee, food and live music, all of those opportunities are currently illegal under California law. Haney’s AB 374 will allow struggling cannabis businesses to diversify away from the marijuana-only “dispensary” model and bring much-needed tourist dollars into empty downtowns.

“Lots of people want to enjoy legal cannabis in the company of others,” said Haney. “And many people want to do that while sipping coffee, eating a scone or listening to music. There’s absolutely no good reason from an economic, health or safety standpoint that the state should make that illegal. If an authorized cannabis retail store wants to also sell a cup of coffee and a sandwich, we should allow cities to make that possible and stop holding back these small businesses.”

California is known worldwide as the birthplace of cannabis culture with its early adoption of medical cannabis and its expertise in cultivation. But there’s another location that competes with California for the title of the world capital of cannabis: Amsterdam. There are more than 700 cannabis cafes that operate across the Netherlands, and more than $1 billion is spent in the cafes every year.

California on the other hand, is still dealing with the unintended consequences of decades of medical marijuana-only policies. California’s “dispensaries” have replaced the social aspect of the Amsterdam cannabis scene with pharmacy-like businesses that only allow customers to order cannabis at a counter, purchase nothing else and then leave.

“California’s small cannabis businesses are struggling,” said Haney. “Issues like over-saturation, high taxes and the thriving black market are hurting cannabis businesses who follow the rules and pay taxes.”

In 2020, California’s legal cannabis sales reached $4 billion, while the state’s illicit market sales were projected to have exceeded $8 billion.

While consuming cannabis on-site at cannabis retailers is technically legal in California, selling non-cannabis-infused products is not. AB 374 is simple because it allows cannabis retailers to diversify their business and move away from the struggling and limited dispensary model by selling non-cannabis-infused foods.

“To be clear, we’re not saying that coffee shops should be allowed to sell cannabis,” said Haney. “We’re saying that cannabis shops should be allowed to sell coffee. It shouldn’t be illegal for an existing cannabis business to move away from only selling marijuana and instead have the opportunity to grow, thrive and create jobs by offering coffee or live jazz.”

AB 374 will now move to the Senate for approval, before being sent to the governor’s desk to be signed.