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The Globe Advanced A Fringe Business Issue. New Alliance Pushes Back.

Pictured: Members of EON and the MCEC on Beacon Hill | Photo courtesy of EON

“Cannabis equity businesses and Equitable Opportunities Now team up to oppose license cap changes and address industry challenges”

The first important thing to understand about Boston Globe cannabis coverage is that the region’s premier outlet of record is historically prohibitionist and barely covers the topic. Still, when it does chime in, whether with news or views, everybody listens. Because it’s the Globe. Sad, but true.

The second thing to note is that nobody there seems to actually care about the impact of the Massachusetts Social Equity Program to lift weed business owners from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Globe has done some solid journalism on the subject along with some bad, which I will get to, but the point is that despite the paper’s general past liberal reputation, by any actual progressive standard the iconic institution holds the line for those in power, from development to political and cultural forces. Marijuana is a game of winners and losers like any other, with the former having much better connected publicists as usual.

The third prerequisite for processing Globe content is to know that while its editors and writers may not truly understand a topic or know all of the relevant players, that rarely stops them from sidelining stakeholders whose narratives contradict their predetermined coverage. And they’re hardly known for conceding their shortcomings post-publication either.

Considering those tendencies, it comes as no surprise that the Globe recently diverted the attention of the Mass cannabis world and beyond to a small group of entities pushing for an increase of the number of retail licenses one owner can hold. It’s not really a current or pressing issue, and the Globe article in question from June 24 recognizes how a “bill that includes a measure to raise the limit on retail licenses from three to six has not made any headway on Beacon Hill and seems unlikely to pass before the session ends in July.” Nevertheless, a “half-dozen business owners who spoke to the Globe still view the ultimate outcome on the cap as a key factor that will influence which cannabis companies survive, and which will not.”

So in other words, this article was getting published no matter what. Even if there are a dozen other things that most Social Equity and Economic Empowerment licensees are concerned about.

To the reporter’s credit, some of those pertinent issues—like improvements to the state’s Social Equity Trust Fund—are acknowledged in the feature. Also, more than one source is quoted as basically saying the cap rap is a trap, something between a nothingburger and a red herring. But despite that input, this is suddenly a page-one issue, and so a number of voices that are aligned against a cap increase are now responding as a chorus, hoping to redirect attention.

Per a media release, “The Massachusetts Cannabis Equity Council—a group of Economic Empowerment and Social Equity Program cannabis business leaders—is a new informal advisory committee to Equitable Opportunities Now, a nonprofit founded after Question 4 passed to support the new law’s social justice mandate by attorney and entrepreneur Shanel Lindsay and former Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title, who leads the Parabola Center think tank.”

“The insights and lessons that these business leaders provide will be invaluable in helping us develop and pass policies that enable those most harmed by prohibition to thrive in this industry as voters intended,” EON Co-Founder Shanel Lindsay said in a statement. “The support, advice, and policy recommendations that the MCEC provides—and the powerful voices of our leaders—will create positive, meaningful, and lasting change for the industry and the Commonwealth’s equity efforts.”

The group’s first-ever press release continues, referring to the aforementioned bill making its way around the State House that would, among other things, raise the cap from three to six licenses: “With the support of EON and the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, the MCEC has met regularly since January, initially in response to a draft bill that was circulated among industry insiders but thus far not filed, which would lift the Commonwealth’s cannabis license ownership cap from three to nine, enabling significant market consolidation and creating an existential threat to small local businesses.”

“The Commonwealth’s license cap is vital to protecting a competitive market and our legally mandated mission to foster equitable participation in this new market,” said EON Policy Co-Chair and MCEC founding member Armani White of Firehouse in Boston. “With lobbyists and lawyers for large multistate operators working with a handful of business leaders to undermine small business protections, it’s vital for cannabis equity businesses to have a voice in the policymaking process.”

“We can increase the value of our businesses, unlock new revenue and capital, reduce burdensome costs, and provide exit ramps for those who want them without joining a race to the bottom that devalues all equity licenses,” founding MCEC member and Zèb Boutique owner Drudys Ledbetter said.

EON Policy Co-Chair Kevin Gilnack, who facilitates the group, added, “It’s no secret that large multistate operators want to control as much of the market as possible. In state after state, they use medical first-mover status, vertical integration, and capitalization to drive a race to the bottom with prices, then offer themselves as the only savior for struggling businesses. … MSOs want legislators to believe that they’re the only salvation for equity businesses because it’s in their interest, period. We’re focused on policies that increase the value of equity licenses, expand access to capital, and reduce burdens on equity businesses.”

As for those other, more important issues … “Recognizing current challenging budget conditions, EON, BECMA, and the MCEC have focused on preserving the first full round of anticipated funding for the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund and developing a legislative agenda that would provide crucial support and relief for disadvantaged businesses without any significant cost to taxpayers.”

“We look forward to putting forward policies that increase access to capital, expand the impact of the cannabis equity fund through private lending and increased capitalization, strengthen CCC and municipal equity programs and policies, and address industry-wide concerns related to testing, hemp products, and agent registrations,” said founding MCEC member Nike John of The Heritage Club.  “We also plan to revisit how cannabis revenues can be more equitably invested back into communities harmed by the war on drugs when the time is right.”

Furthermore, “While the group continues to gather input from its members, it has already identified a number of other likely legislative priorities, including removing unfair restrictions and costly, unnecessary burdens that target equity businesses, expanding access to small business assistance programs, enhancements to Cannabis Control Commission policies and practices, and enhancements to the Commonwealth’s policies granting equity businesses exclusive access to certain license types.”

“All the resources and lobbyists of those seeking to dominate our industry can’t match the power of our collective voices and experiences,” said founding MCEC member and Laury Lucien, owner of Major Bloom and Cami Flower. “From HCA reform to delivery exclusivity to the equity fund, when we speak out together, policymakers listen. With the new forum that EON’s creating for equity businesses with the MCEC, you can expect to hear from us much more frequently.”

“We look forward to building on EON’s successful advocacy for the cannabis equity fund, HCA reform, and municipal equity that passed in 2022, and the impact they’ve had on CCC regulations over the years,” EON Co-Founder Shanel Lindsay said. “Together with the MCEC, we’ll enable even more cannabis equity businesses to thrive in this industry.”

Founding MCEC members include: Shanel Lindsay and Kevin Gilnack, Equitable Opportunities Now (Advisory); Tristan Thomas, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (Advisory); Devin Alexander, Rolling Releaf; Ross Bradshaw, New Dia; Jaison Cramer, Greenerside Farms; Kobie Evans, Pure Oasis; Chris Fevry, Dris Brands; Nike John, The Heritage Club; Brian Keith, Rooted In; Drudys Ledbetter, Zèb Boutique; Laury Lucien, Major Bloom and Cami Flower; Kim Napoli, Esq., Underground Legacy Social Club LLC; Ruben Seyde, Delivered, Inc; Jeff Similien, Lowkey; Phil Smith, Freshly Baked; Gabe Vieira, Zyp Run; Armani White, Firehouse.

Editor’s note: EON recently presented TJM Editor Chris Faraone with an award for his work covering social equity in cannabis. He did not receive a monetary gift but was honored to accept an engraved cup in person and thank the group for the recognition.