Inbox: Community Leaders Call For Fully-Funded Cannabis Equity Program

“The legislature recognized the need to promote equity in the development of our Commonwealth’s cannabis industry, and failure to follow through on that commitment would have lasting harm.”

A coalition including Equitable Opportunities Now, ACLU, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, Boston Impact Initiative, Foundation for Business Equity, The Boston Foundation, Union Capital Boston, and other advocates released a letter today citing the “urgent need to support local entrepreneurs and reform local [cannabis] licensing.” A media release that accompanied their statement can be found below … 

Following the appointment of an all-white conference committee to negotiate differences between House and Senate cannabis reform bills, more than 20 community leaders signed on to a letter urging legislators to fully fund social equity programs and include key equity provisions from each bill.

“It is deeply troubling that none of the legislators of color in either chamber who championed these issues will be at the table to decide how accessible this new industry will be to local entrepreneurs of color and from communities most harmed by the war on drugs,” said Equitable Opportunities Now Co-Founder and Question 4 Co-Author Shanel Lindsay. “Now, the spotlight is on Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Ron Mariano and conferees to deliver a bill that reflects their stated commitment to equity.”

With less than five weeks of formal legislative sessions remaining, advocates stressed the need for the conference committee to finish its work and report out a final bill by July 10 to ensure legislators have time to address any line-item vetoes or amendments from the Governor.

“Despite Question 4’s intent to foster equitable participation in the Massachusetts cannabis market, for the last six years, well-financed operators from out of state have dominated the industry,” said Black Economic Council of Massachusetts Policy and Advocacy Lead Darien Johnson. “We join our community partners in urging the Conference Committee to get this bill done on time and to get it done right – Black and Brown entrepreneurs cannot afford to wait for another two year session.”

Massachusetts cannabis legalization statute calls for excess cannabis revenue to go to five priorities, including “programming for restorative justice.” While the House allocated the full 20% of excess cannabis revenue to such programs, the Senate bill only allocates half that amount.

“The legislature recognized the need to promote equity in the development of our Commonwealth’s cannabis industry, and failure to follow through on that commitment would have lasting harm,” said The Boston Foundation Vice President of Communications & Public Affairs Keith A. Mahoney, Esq. “We ask the conferees to equitably fund programs for restorative justice and meet the twenty-percent minimum proposed by the House.”

In addition to establishing a Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, the cannabis reform bills make important changes that improve equity at the local licensing program, enables social consumption licensing, and improves access to expungement.

“When the ACLU helped write Question 4, our intent was to foster equity in the licensing process – not just at the state level, but at every level – and we hope the Conference Committee will strengthen local equity provisions and incentives,” said ACLU of Massachusetts Deputy Legislative Director Mike Ryan. “It is vital that the Cannabis Control Commission and applicants have all the tools they need to ensure these agreements are fair moving forward.”

The letter’s recommendations include:

    • Fully and fairly fund the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund by adopting House language directing 20% of excess cannabis revenue

    • Empower disproportionately harmed community members to determine how cannabis revenue is reinvested in their community by adopting Senate language that grants Trust’s board authority to promulgate regulations and empowers the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development to approve and implement those regulations

    • Ensure municipalities have a consistent standard for promoting equity in local licensing by empowering the CCC & supporting accountability

      • Bolster the financial incentive to municipalities that host social equity businesses by increasing the additional 1% of revenue offered to communities that host equity businesses to 3%

      • Adopt Senate language empowering the CCC to establish rules and promulgate regulations for host communities. 

      • Adopt House language that would withhold community impact fees from communities that fail to adopt equity policies

    • Improve accountability and fairness in community impact fee dispute resolution by adopting provisions from House and Senate bills

      • Adopt Senate language requiring the CCC to “develop a model host community agreement

      • Adopt Senate language affirming licensees’ right to pursue a civil action regarding unreasonable community impact fees and House language enabling licensees to petition the CCC to review the community impact costs

      • Adopt House language empowering CCC to review past HCAs

    • Strengthen host community agreement reform with reasonable limits and deadlines by adopting House language limiting host community agreements to five years and requiring the Cannabis Control Commission to review host community agreements within 45 days

    • Ensure cannabis businesses continue to make a substantial investment in diversity and positive community impact by strengthening the Senate’s language regarding donations to the Trust Fund to include a minimum standard and progressive sliding scale to ensure large operators invest their fair share back into the community.

    • Provide clarity on the role of the CCC’s Social Equity Program and the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund by amending House language to reflect that the Program should provide training and technical assistance to help applicants navigate the Fund’s application process.

Letter signers include:

    • Shanel Lindsay, Equitable Opportunities Now, Ardent, LLC, and Question 4 Ballot Question Team

    • Betty Francisco, Boston Impact Initiative

    • Darien Johnson, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts

    • Eric Leslie, Union Capital Boston

    • Glynn Lloyd, Foundation for Business Equity

    • Keith A. Mahoney, Esq., The Boston Foundation

    • Mike Ryan, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

    • Devin Alexander, Rolling Releaf (Social Equity Licensee)

    • Medford City Council Vice President Zac Bears

    • Cara Crabb-Burnham, CCB Consulting LLC

    • Kobie Evans, Pure Oasis

    • Kevin Gilnack, Equitable Opportunities Now, KG Consulting, LLC, Question 4 Ballot Question Team

    • Donna Haghighat, The Women’s Fund of Western MA

    • Kevin Hart, Pure Oasis

    • Geneise Israel, Oasis of Tranquility

    • Kizzy Key, Social equity participant 

    • Dr. Marion McNabb, Cannabis Center of Excellence

    • Keniesha Mendes, social equity participant

    • Kimberly Napoli, Esq., Vicente Sederberg, Yes on 4 Campaign, Cannabis Advisory Board

    • Tom Nolan, Ed., Emmanuel College, Question 4 Ballot Question Team

    • David Rabinovitz,, former social equity trainer for Cannabis Control Commission

    • Nairoby Sanchez, Mass CultivatED

    • Eve Santana, Equitable Opportunities Now 

    • Grant Smith Ellis, Grassroots Advocate

    • Armani White, Equitable Opportunities Now and Firehouse (Economic Empowerment Priority Applicant)