Massachusetts Creates Independent Cannabis Board to Attract Diversity

Massachusetts approved an ordinance, which, in turn, created an official Cannabis Board.

When Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, more than 200 licenses were issued. According to the MA Cannabis Control Commission, only ten were from minorities or disadvantaged demographics.

Since then, advocates for diversity in canna-business have long cited a tie to drug-related criminal charges as a barrier to entry for minorities. To combat the stigma and open the entrepreneurial market to cannabis opportunities, Massachusetts approved an ordinance, which, in turn, created an official Cannabis Board. The board’s job was to oversee the review process for local prospective marijuana-related businesses (MRBs). Not only does this boost the local economies, but it strictly requires that at least half of the marijuana licenses be awarded to minority companies in towns affected by the War on Drugs.

The Cannabis Board and Equity Fund were finalized and officially set in motion in late November 2019, along with updated rules on the qualifications to be ruled a minority.

Furthermore, this ordinance created an Equity Fund in the city of Boston, specifically, which provides technical services for qualified businesses. The goal is to make the process of entrance into canna-business as transparent and straight forward as possible. This kind of ordinance put in motion a national standard for business applications from potential MRBs.

To qualify as an equity applicant, the person applying for the permit must check off three criteria.

First, the applicant must have lived five or more years of the past decade in an area of the city that has suffered a “disproportionate impact” from previous marijuana law enforcement. Cities included in that ruling are Abington, Amherst, Boston, Braintree, Brockton, Chelsea, Fall River, Fitchburg, Greenfield, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lowell, Lynn, Mansfield, Monson, New Bedford, North Adams, Pittsfield, Quincy, Randolph, Revere, Southbridge, Spencer, Springfield, Taunton, Walpole, Wareham, West Springfield, and Worchester. If the area in question is in a listed community other than Boston, Worchester, Springfield, or Lowell, all of which have populations of >100,000, it qualifies as an area of disproportionate impact, according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission.

The second criteria to qualify as an equity applicant is to be of African-American, Hispanic, Latino, or Asian descent. Racial minorities are given assistance to fight against stigmas, and the city-funded $1 million Equity Fund provides support for canna-business entrepreneurs from any of the above communities. Although this is an amazing step toward helping bring diversity to the industry, still yet another roadblock trips this group up. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely nothing this group, or any others can do to combat it. A lack of loan availability has long produced issues for entrepreneurs with the means to work around the roadblock. These aforementioned minorities are even further behind the eight ball, but the city funds that go toward this Equity Fund certainly lessen the blow.

The final criteria for equity fund application is whether the person applying is/was designated by the state of Massachusetts as an “economic empowerment applicant”. This essentially means that Massachusetts has to deem that the person or company demonstrate residency in an aforementioned community, experience in the business, employee residences that match the cities in the list above, and business practices that promote economic empowerment in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana enforcement. Those companies which have procured the legitimate paperwork are eligible to have their business licenses expedited and processed first. This is huge when it’s factored into the hundreds of potential MRBs that are all seeking licenses simultaneously.

“Together, we will ensure those who have been impacted hardest by the War on Drugs can benefit most from this new economic opportunity,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said. “Since the start of this new industry, we have worked to ensure the process is fair, transparent, and equitable for all who wish to participate in it.”