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Guest Update: Advocates Applaud Deal That Could Advance Equity Fund

Grant and loan program for communities harmed by war on drugs has been mired by delays since creation, including supplemental budget debate, but now compromise could move Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund forward

Read here for prior reporting on the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund

Dec. 4 update:

Advocates are praising the Massachusetts House and Senate for passing, and Gov. Maura Healey for signing, a FY23 closeout supplemental budget that will enable tens of millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue to be reinvested in communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs through a grant and loan program for cannabis equity businesses.

Language in the new law will enable the state’s Comptroller to transfer revenue from the Marijuana Regulation Fund to the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, which has been awaiting a transfer since its creation in 2022.

Equitable Opportunities Now (EON) Co-Founder Shanel Lindsay is an attorney and owner of Ardent Cannabis, an ancillary marijuana business. Lindsay, who helped draft Question 4 and has advocated for the fund’s creation for more than five years, praised the news, saying:

“The law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Maura Healey today will unlock millions of dollars in grants and loans to cannabis equity businesses. This is an important step toward creating economic opportunity for communities harmed by the war on drugs, as envisioned by voters when they passed Question 4.

“We appreciate all the work that Gov. Healey’s Administration has done in preparation for the launch of the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund and hope they will work quickly to roll out a simple, transparent, user-friendly application process as soon as possible”

The Executive Office of Economic Development (EOED) has been working in consultation with the Cannabis Social Equity Advisory Board to develop an application process, selection criteria, rules, and other details in anticipation of opening an initial grant application process after the funds have been transferred. 

“We are grateful to Gov. Maura Healey, Speaker Ron Mariano, Senate President Karen Spilka, Ways & Means Chairs Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, Cannabis Policy Chairs Rep. Dan Donahue and Sen. Adam Gomez and their colleagues for their ongoing commitment to creating a more equitable cannabis industry,” said EON Co-Founder Shanel Lindsay.

EOED informed the community-led advisory board that it anticipates making grants of up to  $100,000 to eligible cannabis social equity businesses with at least a provisional license from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission during its initial round of grant applications during a recent public meeting.

Dec. 1 update:

Democratic Massachusetts House and Senate leaders announced a deal on the stalled FY 2023 closeout supplemental budget that includes funding for the Commonwealth’s emergency shelter system, collective bargaining agreements, as well as other spending and policy priorities.

The bill will also finally enable the Executive Office of Economic Development to launch a new grant and loan program for cannabis entrepreneurs from communities harmed by the war on drugs created more than a year ago but delayed by a technical issue requiring a legislative fix.

Of the 600 operational cannabis business licenses as of Nov. 9, Economic Empowerment applicants hold 4% of licenses (25) and Social Equity Program participants hold only 7% (42).

Equitable Opportunities Now Policy Co-Chair Kevin Gilnack praised legislators for reaching a compromise that could help save small businesses and jobs in communities harmed by the war on drugs and urged quick passage of language that will transfer money from the Marijuana Regulation Fund to the Cannabis Social Equity Fund and enabling EOED to launch the application process.

“Language in this bill will unlock millions of dollars to be reinvested back into communities that have been torn apart by over-policing and the war on drugs—and it couldn’t come a minute too soon,” said Gilnack. “The loans and grants this program will provide can help save businesses and jobs before the holidays, but only if all legislators put the needs of the Commonwealth’s residents first by quickly passing this bill in an informal session.”

Because negotiations on the bill have carried over into the Legislature’s holiday break, all bills must be passed in an informal session where any single legislator can object and prevent it from passing, and Republican legislators have indicated they may do so without compromise on other sections of the budget bill.

“Struggling entrepreneurs have been waiting too long to endure further delays for assistance promised more than a year ago, and it is unfair to inflict further uncertainty and put more businesses and jobs at risk if Republican lawmakers insist on holding up emergency shelter funding,” said Gilnack. “We appreciate the leadership that Gov. Maura Healey, Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Spilka have shown in advancing the cannabis equity fund fix since September and urge legislative leaders to deliver overdue relief for equity businesses in a standalone bill if Republicans refuse to advance the supplemental budget bill.”

Despite the Commonwealth’s commitment to fostering an equitable industry, the Cannabis Social Equity Fund was only created last year—six years after voters approved Question 4 and yet EOED has been unable to issue a single loan or grant, or even open up an application process.