San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman
San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman

New bills sponsored by Jewish pols could legalize noshing at cannabis cafés

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Cannabis stores have become a common sight in California cities in recent years. Since Prop. 64 was passed in 2016, adults 21 and over across the state have been able to purchase (and in some locations consume on site) marijuana and edibles legally.

But one thing that is not legal at marijuana emporiums is selling food or drink — that is, if the product doesn’t contain cannabis. A pot brownie is fine, but not a regular brownie. Munchies after that edible? Cannabis stores can’t sell you a bag of chips or artisanal avocado toast. Dry mouth after that joint? No drinks for you, whether a can of Coke or an oat milk latte.

But now, thanks to the work of two San Francisco politicians who happen to be Jewish, those restrictions may change.

State Assemblymember Matt Haney and San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman are each working on legislation at state and city levels that would allow cannabis shops to operate like cafés, selling food and drink and maybe even hosting live performances.

“My legislation takes a page from European cities like Amsterdam that have fostered a distinctly cannabis friendly small business model, cannabis cafes,” Mandelman wrote in an email to J.

“Lounges and dispensaries should be able to sell tickets for musical events or charge a cover — similar to venues and establishments all across our city,” he added.

Haney, in a series of tweets on Feb. 6, explained that passage of a similar state bill would bolster the economy and make California “a destination for cannabis, just like we are for wine.”

“If an authorized cannabis retail store wants to sell someone cannabis, a cup of tea & a sandwich, we should allow cities to make that possible, & stop holding back our small businesses from providing a service people [want] & that can grow our economy,” he wrote.

Jewish dispensary owner Misha Breyburg, who operates in San Francisco, said the laws would be a boon to an industry suffering under inflation, competition with the black market and unreasonable levels of regulation. 

“Many, many stores are upside down, under water,” he said.

Breyburg welcomes the proposals — although he doesn’t have any immediate plans to operate as a café if the legislation passes — because they will allow small shop owners to experiment with business models that might help them make a profit.

For Breyburg, the restriction is just one of many holding the legal retail cannabis sector back. “I absolutely support moving the cannabis industry forward,” he said. “I’m super happy to open it up and let the market decide if that’s what people want.”

“Local and state regulations and an overly-burdensome tax structure are crippling the cannabis industry,” Mandelman said. “Lounges and dispensaries need additional pathways for revenue and current programmatic restrictions on cannabis small businesses don’t make sense.”

Haney’s proposal, AB 374, introduced this month, would allow licensed cannabis stores to sell food and nonalcoholic beverages, as well as hold events.

Mandelman’s proposal would open up San Francisco cannabis lounges where on-site cannabis consumption is already allowed to add food, drink and events to the slate (according to KQED, S.F. has about 13 such establishments). The proposal will be brought to the board sometime this spring.

While cannabis is legal for recreational use in California, retail sales are widely restricted by local governments. According to the state, 61% of cities and counties do not allow pot stores at all.

Two previous attempts were made to introduce this kind of measure statewide, and both failed. The most recent was in 2021 — also proposed by a Jewish politician, former Assemblymember Richard Bloom — that made it as far as a Senate committee but no further. The measure faced opposition from the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association over concerns about secondhand smoke exposure to people eating, preparing and serving food.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.