Grow, Gift, Repair

Lip Service on Equity

The former Boston city councilor, as the Spotlight Team reported, is the CEO of Verdant Medical, one of three companies vying for a license in Mattapan. He says once the nonprofit becomes a for-profit company, he will be its owner.

But his deal doesn’t sound much like ownership. Verdant is bankrolled by Sea Hunter Therapeutics, a major player with close ties to the Pulitzer publishing fortune. Besides putting up all the money for Verdant, it appointed its entire board of directors. When the Globe interviewed Jackson — who has been interviewed countless times in his life as a politician — Sea Hunter CEO Alexander Coleman was by his side.

As it happens, the company Delaney ran — but didn’t really run — was under a management agreement with a company owned by Sea Hunter. He found Jackson’s awkward description of his ownership telling.

“The first thing I hear when [Jackson] speaks is that it’s all in the future tense,” Delaney said. “It’s an aspirational claim.”

The recreational marijuana business is exploding, with dozens of stores likely to open in Massachusetts over the coming months. That schedule heavily favors the well-heeled and well-connected, the companies that can afford to shell out millions immediately. And it works against the small-business people who have been sold inflated promises about their chances of getting into the business.

If Massachusetts is serious about creating a marijuana industry that welcomes people whose communities have borne the brunt of mass incarceration, here’s the first step: Slow down.

“I don’t think you can be fast and equitable at the same time, and I don’t think anyone is being honest about that inherent tension,” Delaney told me.

But that alone won’t fix the problem. The state has to address its failure to keep huge companies from dominating the market , companies who expand their grip by financing smaller companies they essentially control. The regulations in place plainly don’t work.

The truth is, nobody knows whether the marijuana industry can be a force for social and economic justice. But if the state’s goals are ever going to be more than just talk, it’s time to get real about how to get there. Ownership in name only isn’t equity. It’s tokenism.