With the first legal recreational marijuana shops expected to open in Boston sometime this year, there’s been growing concern among city officials that minority communities are at risk of being left behind by the economic boom being generated by legalized pot.
On Wednesday, City Councilor Kim Janey, who represents Roxbury and parts of Dorchester, the South End and the Fenway, filed an ordinance that would create a new city Cannabis Board charged with ensuring minority-owned businesses and other equity applicants are well represented among Boston cannabis retailers. Equity applicants include people from communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, and people with a past drug conviction or a family member with one.
The measure, at least as proposed, would also impose a two-year moratorium on the awarding of new licenses to non-equity businesses and require the new Cannabis Board to consider twice as many equity candidates as non-equity ones after that two-year period.
Janey told WGBH News that she expects that specific provisions will change as the Council holds hearings on the ordinance and considers steps forward.
In introducing the ordinance, Janey said the city has a responsibility to make sure the economic benefits of legalized marijuana reach those communities most damaged by decades of harsh criminal penalties for drug possession and use.
“This is important, because for generations the war on drugs targeted and criminalized poor communities of color,” Janey said.
“This industry will generate enormous wealth. We need to make sure that communities that have been locked up are not locked out of this economic opportunity,” she said.
In a hearing last December, Council members heard testimony from various corners suggesting that despite the explicit intention of lawmakers to ensure that disadvantaged communities benefit from marijuana legalization, the number of equity applicants to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission has so far been paltry, at best.
Janey’s ordinance is inspired in part by steps taken by the city of Somerville, which last year enacted some of the most stringent diversity measures for marijuana licenses in the state, including a “one for one” requirement to ensure that licenses are awarded to non-equity businesses only if equity licenses are being awarded at the same rate.
Janey told WGBH News that this ordinance is just the beginning of a longer conversation, and she expects that specific provisions will change as the Council hears testimony and considers next steps.