Cannabis Control commissioner frustrated by slow pace of progress
Your Nov. 15 editorial, “Massachusetts is failing to grow marijuana industry equitably,” reflects on the five-year anniversary of adult-use legalization and its ongoing implementation.
As a member of the state Cannabis Control Commission charged with regulating this industry according to voters’ vision, I, too, am frustrated by the pace of progress to include communities harmed by the war on drugs.
In spite of our policies to help directly affected applicants — training, opportunities to jump our licensing queue, reduced fees, exclusive licenses, and plans all businesses must incorporate for diverse hiring and to support harmed communities — the commission’s efforts fall short without legislative solutions, namely, a social equity loan fund.
Individual commissioners have called for this policy for years, and on Nov. 18 all five voted to advocate for a state-administered loan or grant program composed of public and private funds that would support equity applicants.
Massachusetts made history as the first state to require equity in regulated cannabis, but many legalizing after us are already light-years ahead when it comes to ensuring that those who were hurt by previous marijuana prohibition — disproportionately, people of color — can access the capital they need. We must give these applicants a fighting chance to participate in the now-legal marketplace, and that requires passing a social equity loan fund before it’s too late.
Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
Private sector can be part of solution
The Globe’s editorial board is right to call for the creation of a loan program to address the lack of financing options available to equity applicants in the state’s cannabis industry, but the private sector also can be part of the solution.
To understand which options are most impactful in getting equity businesses up and running, and to make that information available, we at Revolutionary Clinics helped commission a national study of equity programs prepared by business accelerator The Initiative. The study found that money is most critical, followed by business services.
Our industry is hardly alone in these needs, and COVID-19 has created more demand for public dollars. Luckily, another option exists.
Oakland, Calif., which the study points to as the gold standard of equity programs, offers loans and grants to entrepreneurs. The city also offers larger companies accelerated permitting in exchange for becoming an incubator and donating physical space to equity companies. This sort of give-and-take has proved successful; Oakland has issued more than 170 permits since 2017.
The Initiative’s study demonstrated, with peer-reviewed data, that industry-led partnerships can be effective. Massachusetts would be wise to follow Oakland’s lead by leveraging the resources of established operators to boost the number of equity-owned stores.
Beacon Hill has to act to counter clout of larger corporate players
Thank you to the editorial board for highlighting much-needed changes to the existing framework for medical and adult-use cannabis licenses in the Commonwealth (“Massachusetts is failing to grow marijuana industry equitably”).
As someone who, as an advocate, has worked closely with the regulatory and legislative framework surrounding those emerging markets, I applaud the Globe for cogently explicating the three most important areas of reform that advocates, well-meaning industry leaders, and lawmakers alike have been working on recently: changing the host community agreement process to ward off municipal malfeasance, creating a social equity loan fund (using the existing excise tax revenue from adult-use cannabis sales in the state) to help smaller companies begin operations, and repairing the harm that was caused when large corporate medical operators were given an undue advantage in the adult-use permitting system.
The solutions to those problems exist on Beacon Hill as well, be it a bill that would fix the HCA process and mandate that local cities and towns take equity into consideration when issuing such agreements, or a bill to create that social equity loan fund, or a proposal to give all new medical cannabis licenses — should they be broken up from their currently vertically integrated format — to equity applicants for a period of three to five years. There is hope for a brighter future yet.
Some larger corporate operators may loathe such proposals, since a fair free-market structure with a focus on creating pathways to license ownership for those most harmed by the drug war undermines any attempt at obtaining a market oligopoly. But we should never draft public policy so as to benefit the bottom lines of a few wealthy groups.
Grant Smith Ellis