Grow, Gift, Repair

‘We’re talking about restorative justice;’ Marijuana business applicants, advocates call out for more equity in Massachusetts cannabis industry

Laury Lucien, a co-owner of the marijuana retail business Major Bloom in Worcester, said equity applicants that are trying to open a cannabis company in Massachusetts are fighting a unicorn. And that unicorn, Lucien said, is stigma rooted in ignorance and racism.

Lucien pointed back to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act and the anti-cannabis stances of presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. High rates of incarceration for marijuana, which disproportionately affected Black and Brown people, followed.

“So there was an institutionalized, intended method of creating the system that we have now,” Lucien said. “So when we’re talking about equity, we’re not talking about charity. We’re talking about restorative justice for a government that screwed a whole bunch of people over.”

Lucien was one of several equity applicants working to open a marijuana business in Massachusetts who, along with advocates, spoke during a virtual rally on Thursday afternoon. Four years after marijuana became legal in Massachusetts, with the promise of benefitting minorities harmed by the war on drugs, advocates say there has not been enough done to promote equity in the state’s emerging industry.

“We’re nowhere near where we hoped to be when it comes to reversing and correcting the decades-long and generational harm inflicted on Black and Brown people in this state under cannabis prohibition,” said Shanel Lindsay, the co-founder of Equitable Opportunities Now!, which hosted the rally with the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and Minority Cannabis Business Association.

The state has a first-of-its-kind equity program. The Cannabis Control Commission’s social equity program focused on technical training and the economic empowerment program aimed to give priority review to people and communities affected by marijuana prohibition. But, as CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman noted during the rally, while more than 70 provisional licenses have been granted to social equity, economic empowerment and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise applicants, only three businesses in those categories have been able to open.

It led the applicants on Thursday to call for change and urge support for pending bills as the legislative session comes to an end later this month.

One thing Lucien said she wants to see is a one-to-one ratio at the state level for equity versus non-equity business.

“This is restorative,” she said. “This is not an opportunity for people to continue getting richer off the backs of people who they intentionally marginalized.”

Saskia VannJames, a member of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said capitalism was founded on racism and that to be anti-racist, one must be anti-capitalist. People from the traditional marijuana market used before legalization want access to the legal market, but the legal market was created to prioritize capitalization, she said.

“So, therefore, it is not accessible. There’s only one entry point and that entry point requires millions of dollars. It’s crazy,” she said. “This is what happens when you do not listen to the people who created this industry when you have degrees and you think you’re qualified but because these people have records and backgrounds they’re disqualified.”

Advocates are asking legislators to support bills that would increase equity in the industry, including:

  • An Act to ensure full participation in the marijuana industry (S. 2650), which would create a Cannabis Social Equity Loan Trust Fund for the purpose of making no-interest loans to economic empowerment and social equity program participants.
  • An Act relative to host community agreements (H. 4398), which would require the Cannabis Control Commission to review, regulate and enforce the host community agreements.
  • An Act relative to social consumption sites (S. 2638), which would make a necessary technical change to allow towns and cities to opt in to social consumption, which will allow the Cannabis Control Commission’s regulations creating a social consumption pilot program to move forward.
  • An Act relative to the expungement of convictions for marijuana possession (S. 1131), which would allow people who have a record with a charge for unlawful possession of marijuana to have their records expunged immediately under certain circumstances.

CCC Commissioner Shaleen Title urged those listening to the rally to call legislators and voice support for the measures.

“They passed this law, the voters passed this law, equity is a key piece. All we have to do is make sure that it’s at the top of their minds,” Title said. “Often you will agree with something but you prioritize it based on the people that call you and the people who talk to you. If you don’t hear from them, you won’t know.”

Devin Alexander, a social equity applicant who is working to open the delivery business Rolling Releaf, said no-interest loans would be vital for his business.