“As part of legalization, we can’t ignore what happened [under prohibition] and the effects that it had,” said cannabis commissioner Shaleen Title. “We’re proactively addressing those harms.”
Using $300,000 in initial funding from the state, the commission’s program will be carried out primarily by community groups and other vendors, with training to begin later this year.
“We realized talking to people from these communities that there are different areas of interest,” Title said. “We want this industry to be really diverse, so we’re taking a holistic view of it and trying to create a pipeline of talent on multiple levels.”
Some marijuana businesspeople said they’re hopeful the equity program will make the process of getting a marijuana license less of a mystery.
Laury Lucien, a Hyde Park attorney and activist whose company plans a marijuana cultivation facility and retail shop in the suburbs, said her firm struggled at first to manage its books, get financing, and find a location where she would be allowed to open.
“You really need specialized accounting knowledge, which gets expensive fast,” she said. “And real estate was a huge challenge — there’s really a dearth of properties out there right now.”
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Lucien said the training should also boost new business owners’ confidence and other intangible skills.
“You have to be mentally ready, and it sounds like the commission is going to help people get there,” Lucien said.
Others are skeptical.
Sieh Samura, an Iraq War veteran who runs a delivery service for medical marijuana patients, said many in the underground economy are still wary of working with the government.
“A lot of people in my neighborhood were harmed by the drug war . . . and we haven’t all come to grips with game that’s been played on us,” Samura said. “There’s a lot of mistrust.”
In his case, Samura is upset the commission has delayed permitting of delivery services, which are less expensive to start up and build out than large cultivation facilities or retail shops. His current business is structured as a private club, and not licensed by medical marijuana regulators.
One major obstacle facing applicants from minority and low-income communities is the local approval process. Municipal officials have broad discretion over whom to license, and no municipalities have yet implemented a local licensing system that gives preference to equity applicants. Two business organizations have offered to draft local equity rules municipalities could adopt.