AFTER MASSACHUSETTS voters legalized adult-use hashish in 2016, the Legislature made historical past as the primary within the nation to require full participation within the regulated business by people who had been harmed by earlier marijuana prohibition. Sadly, 5 years later, our state is now falling behind others in relation to assembly our personal fairness mandate.
This considerations me as one among 5 Hashish Management Commissioners charged with guaranteeing the protected, efficient regulation of a market that has change into an financial engine for the Commonwealth and 18 states (and rising) nationwide. On a extra private degree, this deeply upsets me after rising up in Miami Dade County, the place my group was destabilized by a bootleg marketplace for hashish, amongst different prohibited substances, whereas over-policing and enforcement exacerbated the cruel inequalities that exist for Black and Brown folks. I watched the Struggle on Medicine play out in actual time.
For its half, the fee has been intentional the final 4 years about creating insurance policies to decrease boundaries to entry in Massachusetts: for instance, there isn’t any statewide cap on licenses, so there isn’t any restrict to the alternatives accessible for entrepreneurs who wish to transition to the authorized market. And, not like the medical business, adult-use licenses should not vertically built-in, which makes opening a enterprise extra attainable to these with much less capital.
As well as, each single licensee should implement plans to rent numerous workers and assist disproportionately harmed communities. Our company additionally gives a whole bunch of people who meet equity-based standards coaching and technical help (the primary program of its sort within the nation), lowered charges, a leg up within the software evaluate course of, and a carve-out for sure licenses. And, since 2019, the fee has advocated for reform of host group agreements, which candidates say current challenges to getting into the business. The fee isn’t achieved looking for out extra alternatives to improve entry for licensees, however the largest impediment to true fairness is capital.
Whereas marijuana stays a Schedule 1 drug on the federal degree, the license candidates that Massachusetts got down to assist can’t acquire loans, grants, and different providers accessible to conventional small companies. This has led to predatory lending and prevented those that had been damage by prohibition from getting concerned now that marijuana is authorized, although our Legislature requires it.
In the meantime, different states have allotted monetary sources for fairness companies by way of varied iterations of a state fund. Connecticut put aside $40 million a yr for his or her Social Fairness Council, which can be utilized as direct help for fairness candidates. In Illinois, fairness candidates are eligible for low-interest loans by way of the state’s Social Fairness Hashish Mortgage Program. New York is growing a mix of grants, low-interest loans, and incubators for fairness companies paid for with hashish tax income. And Virginia created a Hashish Fairness Enterprise Mortgage Fund that will supply low-interest loans to fairness licensees.
So, why not Massachusetts?
We proceed to look at this market develop at a fast tempo within the Commonwealth. For the reason that first adult-use retailers opened in 2018, one other 332 adult-use licensees have commenced operations and 183 retailers have generated greater than $2.3 billion in product sales. To place it merely, this business is booming. However out of all operational licensees, solely 22 participated within the fee’s fairness applications, and one other 29 are state-designated woman-, minority-, and veteran-owned companies. These numbers proceed to enhance each month—with dozens extra fairness licensees within the fee’s queue who haven’t but crossed the completed line to opening—and the options they want are ready for motion on Beacon Hill.
A number of payments filed this session would create a fund to present low- and zero- curiosity loans and/or grants to fairness candidates and licensees. Particular person commissioners have referred to as for such a coverage for years and, at our November 18 public assembly, all 5 voted to advocate for a state-administered mortgage or grant program composed of private and non-private funds to assist finance equitable hashish companies in Massachusetts.
Let’s be actual about this: communities throughout this state nonetheless expertise the painful impacts of the Struggle on Medicine at the moment. The households which were torn aside by over-policing and over-enforcement needs to be the primary to profit now that marijuana is authorized. Massachusetts is aware of what it takes to verify fairness materializes, and now could be the time to hold out its promise by investing in those that should take part on this business.
Nurys Camargo is a commissioner of the Massachusetts Hashish Management Fee.