The laws that legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts four years ago explicitly mandated that those who disproportionately suffered during the war on drugs would be able to benefit from the industry, but today it is disproportionately run by white business owners.
Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steve Hoffman and Commissioner Shaleen Title joined Boston Public Radio Thursday to talk about what changes could be made.
One of the major hurdles is just getting through the municipal process and negotiating a host community agreement — a necessary step in the process that must be completed before the state can even consider a license.
"The local approval process, particuarly the host community agreement, was meant to be an agreement between businesses and the municipality they're located in to discuss things like hour of operation, signage, the typical things a city would control," Title said. "But what it turned into was this perversion where many — not all — but many towns and cities are using the host community agreement as a way to extract money, donations, sometimes from businesses."
Only three of 70 equity, economic empowerment, and disadvantaged business enterprises licenses approved by the commission have opened their doors in the state, Title and Hoffman wrote in an opinion column in the Boston Globe last week. In their column they also outlined concrete actions the commission and state Legislature can take to make the law work more fairly, including a Senate bill that would establish a loan fund for equity applicants.
One other area of contention, Title noted, is a provision in the House's police reform bill that would use tax revenue from the marijuana industry to fund police training. This touched a nerve with many marijuana equity advocates.
"It struck a chord with a lot of people. I know I had a visceral reaction to it, to see an equity bill funding police before equity has been funded in many ways [in the marijuana industry]," said Title. "The chairman said earlier he was proud other states are following in our lead, and I was proud, but at this point, four years later, I'm started to becoming embarrassed, to be honest."