Cannabis prohibition has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities and against poor people. That’s why it is so disheartening to see members of minority communities largely left out of the ‘green rush.’ In 2015 African Americans made up 11% of Washington State’s cannabis arrests. However, less than 3% of cannabis retail license-holders in Washington State are African American. A study from 2016 found that nationally the number of dispensaries owned by African Americans was less than 1%.
In most states getting into the cannabis industry requires a lot of money. It also often requires that people applying for marijuana business licenses have records that are free from any drug convictions. For a lot of members of minority and/or poor communities, those are hurdles that are extremely hard to overcome. That has led to some municipalities creating cannabis industry equity programs that help members of those communities.
Prior to this week, those have only been local efforts. This week saw that change when Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission unanimously pass rules that would create the first-ever statewide cannabis equity program for people from ‘areas of disproportionate impact.’ Per Boston Herald:
The Cannabis Control Commission adopted the frameworks for a priority review process for license applicants that demonstrate they will promote economic empowerment in communities harmed by the illegal pot drug trade and for a program to help people from those communities establish themselves in the business.
A license applicant would be eligible for priority review if they meet two of the following criteria: a majority of the firm’s ownership belongs to people who have lived in areas of disproportionate impact for five of the past 10 years; a majority of ownership has economic empowerment experience; at least 51 percent of current employees or subcontractors reside in areas of disproportionate impact — and that number will increase to 75 percent by the beginning of business; or that at least 51 percent of employees have a prior drug-related conviction; or that owners can demonstrate significant past experience of economic empowerment.
“If an applicant can show they meet the criteria the commission puts in place, the applicant will move ahead in line so hopefully they can open their doors sooner,” Commissioner Shaleen Title, who previously ran an industry recruiting firm focused on diversity and inclusion in hiring, said of the priority review proposal. “This is not a license designation … this is about speed through the process.”
This is a really, really big deal. It is my hope to see this type of equity program in every legal state sooner than later. Just as Massachusetts has done with social use reform, Massachusetts has created a framework for equity programs that makes it much easier for states to adopt similar programs. Creating something out of nothing is never easy, and that is especially true when it comes to government and politics.
When a framework is already in place in one state, other states can look to either adopt that state’s framework outright or build off of it. They no longer have to try to invent the wheel. I have said it before and I will say it again, Shaleen Title is RAD and is absolutely crushing it right now. She is pushing for reforms that are going to hopefully become the norm in other states and is quickly making Massachusetts the gold standard of what state-level legalization should look like. If you see her in Massachusetts this week, make sure to give her a high five for me!
Below is more information about Massachusett’s equity program via a press release put out by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission earlier this week:
PRIORITY ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT REVIEW
Definition of “Areas of Disproportionate Impact”
- Agreed to use the phrase “area of disproportionate impact, as defined by the Commission” for drafting purposes as part of recommendations.
- At the January 9, 2018 Commission meeting, discuss and vote on analysis for identifying areas of disproportionate impact based on data available.
- Agreed to grant priority review to applicants who demonstrate two of the following:
o Majority of ownership belongs to people who have lived in areas of disproportionate impact for 5 of the last 10 years;
o Majority of ownership has economic empowerment experience’;
o At least 51% of current employees/sub-contractors reside in areas of disproportionate impact and will increase to 75% by first day of business;
o At least 51% of employees or sub-contractors have drug-related CORI;
o Owners can demonstrate additional significant, articulable past experience in or business practices that promote economic empowerment in areas of disproportionate impact.
- After receiving priority review, priority applicants would be subject to the same requirements as general applicants.
Equity Program Eligibility
- Agreed applicants will be eligible if the majority of owners can demonstrate:
o They have resided in areas of disproportionate impact for 5 of the last 10 years, or
o They have resided in Massachusetts for 12 months, and have a prior Chapter 94C (or similar/related conviction from another jurisdiction) conviction, or
o They have resided in Massachusetts for 12 months, and have a parent or spouse with a prior Ch. 94C (or similar/related conviction from another jurisdiction) drug-related conviction.
Equity Program Benefits
- Agreed, in addition to fee waivers, to authorize intent to set aside funds to provide technical assistance on:
o Management, recruitment, and employee trainings;
o Accounting and sales forecasting;
o Tax prediction and compliance; legal compliance;
o Business plan creation and operational development;
o Marijuana industry best practices; and
o Assistance with raising funds or capital.
Inclusion of Under-Represented Groups
- Agreed to require all applicants to submit and adhere to a diversity plan to promote racial and gender equity and include veterans and people with disabilities, as a general suitability requirement;
- Agreed to partner with organizations located throughout the Commonwealth to create outreach programs, technical assistance programs, workforce development programs offering skills-based training programs and establishing equitable employment and ownership opportunities for minorities, women, veterans, and low-income individuals; and
- Agreed to create educational materials in multiple languages and disseminate them on its website and in-person trainings throughout Massachusetts; and
- Agreed to create a resource to connect individuals with existing resources to obtain diversity certification.
Contribution to Social Equity Programs
- Agreed to require all applicants to submit and adhere to a plan for how the business will positively impact such communities, as a general suitability requirement, according to a mandate to positively affect communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for drug offenses.
- Agreed to give alternate, priority review to registered marijuana dispensaries and economic empowerment applications in order to ensure an equitable distribution of economic empowerment and registered marijuana dispensary licenses.
Citizen Review Committee
- Agreed to appoint a nine-person Citizens Review Committee comprised of people from impacted communities before January 31, 2018 to make recommendations regarding the equity program and the tax revenue allocated for community reinvestment under state law.