When Massachusetts legalized marijuana back in 2016, the new law included a mandate enforcing the industry to offer opportunities to communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs and consistent over-policing for cannabis. In doing this, Massachusetts became the first state to write social equity for the marijuana industry into law.

The state also created the Cannabis Control Commission to help those who were eligible to open a dispensary. There were two programs new dispensary owners could go through: the Economic Empowerment Program and the Social Equity Program. But since these programs were introduced, many have found it difficult to get CCC approval for a distribution license.

More recently, state officials announced the creation of the Cannabis Social Equity Advisory Board, a committee tasked with deciding how the state will dispense money to cannabis entrepreneurs.

"A lot of people that look like me don't have the opportunity to enter this industry because the barriers are set up from the jump," said Dru Ledbetter, the CEO of cannabis delivery company Flower Xpress and owner and CEO of the Zeb Boutique dispensary.

About 68% of active marijuana establishment owners in Massachusetts are white, according to data collected by the Cannabis Control Commission. Only 8% are Hispanic or Latino and 6% are Black. As for gender, 63% of active establishment owners are men and 36% are women, according to the same data.

"I believe that any person that has a marijuana offense, currently or in the past, that should be wiped from their record," said Tito Jackson, a former Boston city councilor and CEO of Apex Noire, "because there are companies who are operating in the state of Massachusetts who are making hundreds of millions of dollars, and I guarantee you none of the people currently locked up sold anywhere near as much as some of those companies."

Has the industry actually become more equitable, and have these moves toward a more inclusive cannabis industry been successful? Ledbetter and Jackson joined Under the Radar to share their experiences and perspectives.


Dru Ledbetter, CEO of Flower Xpress, a recreational cannabis delivery company, and the owner and CEO of Zeb Boutique, a cannabis retail dispensary in Boston

Tito Jackson, former Boston city councilor and CEO of the new cannabis dispensary, Apex Noire