Another requirement is intended to recruit nonequity pot companies to the cause: All applicants must show how their businesses will benefit communities hurt by the drug war. For example, Sira Naturals, a larger medical marijuana operator that’s seeking recreational licenses, plans to host an incubator for equity applicants at its growing facility in Milford.
Licensed marijuana businesses must also write and adhere to a diversity plan that promotes gender equity and the employment of veterans, LGBT people, and people with disabilities.
The commission also offers incentives: Companies that provide money and mentoring to entrepreneurs from “areas of disproportionate impact” can get the cannabis equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval: a “social justice leader” label affixed to their product packaging.
State officials also have moved to protect smaller equity businesses by banning larger companies from holding more than three licenses of any type and capping each company’s cultivation area at 100,000 square feet.
All these advantages, however, may not help applicants overcome the biggest hurdle: winning approval from local officials for the location and opening of their businesses.
Somerville and other municipalities are considering local versions of the equity program, but none have been adopted yet. Advocates are worried established companies — such as existing medical dispensaries, which are nearly all white-owned — can outbid smaller players by offering communities generous financial packages.
“Cities and towns need to step up, or in a few years we’ll see we had this opportunity to put diversity into action and we failed,” said Ross Bradshaw, who hopes to open a pot business in a Worcester neighborhood designated as an area of disproportionate impact. “There are going to be municipalities that only allow three licenses, and two are going to medical marijuana companies. That’s less opportunity for people of color.”