Grow, Gift, Repair

Recap of the hearing at the State House

Chauncy Spencer, a Boston resident who is working to open a marijuana store in the city, told the Legislature’s Committee on Cannabis Policy that the bills would severely limit where his company could operate.

“What that does is create, effectively, a ban in our city. There are over 100 churches, just churches alone, in the city of Boston and probably more day cares,” he said.

Spencer said the bills would disproportionately harm minority business owners.

“I would hope that we would be careful about implementing such bans because we were supposed to include people from these areas in the industry and not lock them out,” he said.

Devonta Davis and Cleon Byron, co-owners of a marijuana company in Boston, said 10 churches and six day care centers are within three blocks of their location along Blue Hill Avenue. They said they have been transparent with those groups about their business plan.

“We’ve talked to the community; we’re part of the community,” Davis said. “We’ve been in contact with the churches, we’ve been in contact with the day cares and they seem to be on our side. So I don’t understand where these bills are coming from.”

Davis and Byron both said there’s always something holding back people of color from fully participating in the newly legal industry.

“The economic impacts of these bills are just as harmful as the war on drugs, which was proven to target minority communities, and I see these bills as targeting minority businesses,” Davis said. “We have been told that throughout this entire process that social equity is a top priority in Massachusetts, yet at every turn there seems to be an attack on the economic capabilities of minority communities and businesses.”

Equity is a central component of the marijuana law passed by voters in 2016 and the law as rewritten by the Legislature the following year. The law requires that the Cannabis Control Commission adopt “procedures and policies to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities.”

John Scheft, an attorney appointed by Attorney General Maura Healey to serve on the state’s special commission on drugged driving, said he supports the more restrictive zoning for marijuana companies.

“One of the drumbeats that this committee has heard from people who support the commercial system for cannabis is, ‘let’s just treat it like alcohol.’ We really should do that,” he said, referencing a state law that requires liquor stores and restaurants serving alcohol to notify churches and schools within 500 feet and allow them a chance to object before the business is allowed to open. “It seems that we should certainly do that for marijuana establishments.”

Scheft represented the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance in its opposition to the 2012 ballot question authorizing medical marijuana.

“We’re just looking for parity in treatment,” he said.