One of the last major bills that state lawmakers sent to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk before their formal session ended last month was aimed at improving equity in the state's legal marijuana industry. Baker signed the bill into law on Thursday, saying it would expand opportunities and improve the Cannabis Control Commission's regulation of the field. GBH State House reporter Katie Lannan joined Morning Edition host Paris Alston to talk about the law. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Paris Alston: So, what exactly does this bill do?

Katie Lannan: It's got several big pieces that advocates have really been working to get into law for years, building off the equity language in the original 2016 ballot question [legalizing recreational marijuana in Massachusetts]. The idea behind it is to open up participation in the new industry as it take shapes in smaller businesses, local businesses, [owned by] people of color, and kind of make sure it's not all dominated by large, wealthy corporations profiting here. So the focus on equity and diversity comes in with two main pieces.

There's a social equity trust fund that will be funded with cannabis tax revenue. That will provide grants and loans to entrepreneurs who come from communities that have been hard-hit by the war on drugs, to help them get a foothold with some of the high startup costs. The other piece is really setting new standards for the host community agreements between cannabis businesses and the cities and towns where they're looking to open up, to make sure those agreements aren't too onerous or costly.

And it also outlines a process for cities and towns to vote to allow social consumption sites. If you look at the alcohol parallel, [these would be] places that are more like a bar than a liquor store, where people will be able to use cannabis on-site after they buy it.

Alston: Going back to what you were saying about the bill, Katie, it is interesting that the voters enacted [legalization] back in 2016, but there still were all of these speed bumps for small business owners, like you mentioned. So it's interesting to see that this is coming to the fore again with this new law. And you talked about social consumption sites. How does that fit in with the new law's equity focus?

Lannan: Well, from the business owners' standpoint, we've heard from state lawmakers that these cannabis cafes are easier and less expensive to start than other marijuana businesses. Rather than a whole cultivation facility, for instance, it's more of a cafe. It's pretty easy to set up, comparatively speaking, though there are still quite a few hurdles.

And then even though adult-use marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, not everyone has a spot where they can use it legally. That includes people in public housing. Out-of-state tourists aren't able to consume marijuana products in hotels if they're coming to visit. For renters, it depends on what their landlord has to say. And people might not want to use marijuana around roommates or family. So [the law] really looks to open that up so that if it's legal, it should be accessible to everyone.

Alston: So we have the dispensaries. I've been seeing signs for cannabis delivery, which I just find to be so fascinating, considering everywhere that we've been in terms of marijuana drug laws. And, I think the closest we've gotten to social consumption is, like, there was a "brushstrokes and tokes" event happening in Worcester one time, like similar to a paint and sip night. But in general, Katie, why has it taken so long to get widescale social consumption off the ground?

Lannan: Yeah, it really is fascinating to see kind of the turnaround in people's mindsets in a few years since this ballot question was first passed in 2016. That law did include social consumption sites, and the Cannabis Control Commission started talking in 2017 about possible ways to regulate that. They ended up putting that part of the law on hold and doing kind of a staggered rollout amid concerns from some in state government that it was too ambitious to do everything all at once.

So there were regulations approved in 2019, but there was the idea that there needed to be a law change so that cities and towns could opt in, that they could find a way to authorize these sites. So that's what this law does. And there's been concerns from the governor, who opposed the 2016 ballot question. He has thought in the past that a pilot is the way to go. But he's also had concerns about impaired driving possibilities if you're creating new ways for people to dive in. So apparently lawmakers did manage to send him something he could get on board with, though, since he signed this bill into law.

"It really is fascinating to see kind of the turnaround in people's mindsets in a few years since this ballot question was first passed in 2016."
-GBH News State House reporter Katie Lannan

Alston: He did sign it into law, but did he approve of everything that was in this year's bill or did he move to make any changes to it?

Lannan: He signed almost all of the law as-is, but he did veto one section that called for the state to study ways that would allow students who are authorized to possess and use medical marijuana to do so on school grounds. That study was supposed to include recommendations for eliminating obstacles and expanding accommodations, and he was worried about the idea of bringing medical marijuana into school grounds and said the ballot questions included strong measures to keep marijuana out of K-12 schools.

Alston: I'm interested if you're able to just take us behind the scenes at the State House a little bit. What is the sense you get as to how lawmakers and the governor are working together? Are they treating this, as they have other vices, like alcohol, or are they taking a different approach to this because this is a new landscape in the state?

Lannan: I think it's really become similar to the way the state handles casino gambling and the new sports betting laws. They're approaching it as that kind-of-regulated industry, and that it's something the voters asked for, so it's their job to make sure it's delivered in the right way.