the state Cannabis Control Commission will spend two weeks reviewing applications from two groups that, if certified, will be able to get a first crack at entering what’s expected to debut as a $400 million-a-year business.
One group is existing medical marijuana dispensaries.
The other: People from communities and neighborhoods, mainly black and Latino, who endured disproportionately high rates of arrest and incarceration.
Regret about that found its way into “An Act To Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana,” the state law that has directed work by the cannabis commission now in a final three-month sprint to the start of adult-use sales.
“Criminalization has had long-term ill effects, not only on the individuals arrested and incarcerated, but on their families and communities,” says the commission’s Summary of Equity Provisions.
People from both of Berkshire County’s two cities, North Adams and Pittsfield, are eligible to apply for priority status, based on arrest rates, population, poverty and unemployment.
That policy is meant to bring cannabis industry jobs and revenues to places that, until a decade ago, were unduly penalized, before baby steps led to marijuana possession decriminalization in 2009 and legalization in 2016.
Jon B. Gettman, a criminal justice professor at Shenandoah University, advised the commission on eligible communities.
In a Dec. 8 report, Gettman found that North Adams ranked highest in Berkshire County for having the greatest impact on marijuana arrests. That city and Pittsfield made Gettman’s list of the top 50 drug arrest impacts, with Pittsfield at No. 14 and North Adams in 31st place.
Gettman declined to speak about his two studies to date for the commission, citing ongoing work for the panel.
Before the advent of decriminalization, as many as 7,500 people were arrested for marijuana possession in Massachusetts each year.
The American Civil Liberties Union, in a 2013 report, said that from 2001 to 2010, police in the U.S. made 8 million marijuana arrests, 88 percent of them for possession. The report said that although marijuana use is equal between black people and white people, blacks were 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for possession.
“The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime,” the report said.
While applicants from the two Berkshire County cities will get early consideration, that’s no promise of a license, according to Steven J. Hoffman, chairman of the cannabis commission.
“The objective is to ensure that those communities are full participants in the industry,” he said. “We’re not guaranteeing anybody’s going to get a license. We’re not going to relax our standards for these groups. We’re just going to let them apply earlier.”