Boston Community Leaders Call For Fully-Funded Cannabis Equity Program And More Diversity

Social equity advocates in Boston released a letter to state Senate President Karen Spilka citing an “urgent need to support local entrepreneurs and reform local cannabis licensing.”

The advocates’ coalition includes Equitable Opportunities Now, ACLU, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, Boston Impact Initiative, Foundation for Business Equity, The Boston Foundation and Union Capital Boston, among others.

The letter urged legislators to fully fund social equity programs and include key equity provisions from each bill after noticing the conference committee chosen to negotiate differences between House and Senate cannabis reform bills was entirely made up of white people.

“It is deeply troubling that none of the legislators of color in either chamber who championed these issues will be at the table to decide how accessible this new industry will be to local entrepreneurs of color and from communities most harmed by the war on drugs,” said Equitable Opportunities Now Co-Founder and Question 4 Co-Author Shanel Lindsay. “Now, the spotlight is on Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Ron Mariano, and conferees to deliver a bill that reflects their stated commitment to equity.”

Advocates stressed the need for the conference committee to finish its work and report a final bill by July 10 to ensure legislators have time to address any line-item vetoes or amendments from the Governor.

“Despite Question 4’s intent to foster equitable participation in the Massachusetts cannabis market, for the last six years, well-financed operators from out of state have dominated the industry,” said Black Economic Council of Massachusetts Policy and Advocacy Lead Darien Johnson. “We join our community partners in urging the Conference Committee to get this bill done on time and to get it done right – Black and Brown entrepreneurs cannot afford to wait for another two-year session.”

The House allocated the full 20% of excess cannabis revenue to these programs. However, the Senate bill only allocates half that amount. Massachusetts cannabis legalization statute calls for excess cannabis revenue to go to five priorities, including “programming for restorative justice.”

“The legislature recognized the need to promote equity in the development of our Commonwealth’s cannabis industry, and failure to follow through on that commitment would have lasting harm,” said Boston Foundation VP  Communications & Public Affairs Keith A. Mahoney. “We ask the conferees to equitably fund programs for restorative justice and meet the twenty-percent minimum proposed by the House.”

The cannabis reform bills also make changes that improve fairness in the local licensing program, allow social consumption licenses, and improve access to their availability.

“When the ACLU helped write Question 4, our intent was to foster equity in the licensing process – not just at the state level, but at every level – and we hope the Conference Committee will strengthen local equity provisions and incentives,” said ACLU of Massachusetts deputy legislative director Mike Ryan. “It is vital that the Cannabis Control Commission and applicants have all the tools they need to ensure these agreements are fair moving forward.”

In the letter, advocates continued to push for social equity. 

“We urge the Conference Committee to clarify the House’s language to reflect that the CCC shall administer a social equity program… [that] shall offer technical assistance and training, including but not limited to guidance on how to access funds available through the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund.”

Photo: Benzinga Custom Images Source: Unsplash

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