Grow, Gift, Repair

New Coalition for Equity: RACE!

The organization — Real Action for Cannabis Equity, or R.A.C.E. — will work to ensure that entrepreneurs, employees, and communities of color have equal opportunities to open marijuana dispensaries and benefit from the nascent industry, according to a statement announcing the coalition Thursday.

“We want to be a model that shows the rest of the state and the rest of the country how true partnerships and good sound policy can ensure equity and diversity in the cannabis business,” cofounder Richard Harding said in an interview.

The state’s pot industry has faced criticism because only two of 184 marijuana business licenses in Massachusetts are owned by people in the state’s social equity program, which includes minorities, people with drug records, and those from area with high numbers of marijuana-related arrests.

Harding, who is launching the coalition with his business partner Taba Moses, said the inspiration for forming the group came from their frustrating efforts to be one of the first black-owned cannabis companies on the East Coast.

“As we got into the endeavor, we really saw just how inequitable the cannabis rollout is in the state of Massachusetts,” Harding said.

The duo is trying to open their dispensary, Green Soul Organics, in Cambridge, but say they’ve been discouraged by the slow process and the seemingly unfair advantages that medical dispensaries could receive if they’re given priority to start selling recreational marijuana there, too.

A proposed amendment in the Cambridge City Council could put a moratorium on registered medical dispensaries in the city, requiring them to wait two years before opening for recreational sales. The medical dispensaries, among other allies, find this proposal unfair, calling the restrictions “unreasonably impracticable.”

But prospective adult-use store owners like Harding say the proposal would be a vital step to giving a real chance to economic empowerment applicants, people who been granted priority review of their application by the state for a multitude of reasons. In many cases, Harding pointed out, economic empowerment applicants are local residents who grew up in the area and want to open a marijuana business to give back to their community.

“Why would the Cambridge City Council, a local governing board, not support local [economic empowerment] applicants?” Harding said.

The coalition’s initial efforts will focus on ensuring that equity is brought to the Cambridge cannabis industry, starting with a silent demonstration at Cambridge City Hall Friday.

But the coalition as a whole is about more than just Cambridge, Harding said.

“It’s not necessarily about the moratorium,” he said. “It’s about the movement.”

He wants to help cities and towns across the country find unique ways to work equity into their marijuana regulations, ensuring that people of color and others who have been hurt by the war on drugs can benefit from the industry.

“We got together with some other economic empowerment groups to say, ‘Look, we need to organize around equity in cannabis,’” he said. “If you mess this up, you can’t fix this. This thing moves so fast.”