CommonWealth Magazine | Mass. falling behind on marijuana equity mandate (Op-ed)
By Commissioner Nurys Camargo
AFTER MASSACHUSETTS voters legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016, the Legislature made history as the first in the nation to require full participation in the regulated industry by individuals who were harmed by previous marijuana prohibition. Unfortunately, five years later, our state is now falling behind others when it comes to meeting our own equity mandate.
This concerns me as one of five Cannabis Control Commissioners charged with ensuring the safe, effective regulation of a marketplace that has become an economic engine for the Commonwealth and 18 states (and growing) nationwide. On a more personal level, this deeply upsets me after growing up in Miami Dade County, where my community was destabilized by an illicit market for cannabis, among other prohibited substances, while over-policing and enforcement exacerbated the harsh inequalities that exist for Black and Brown people. I watched the War on Drugs play out in real time.
For its part, the commission has been intentional the last four years about creating policies to lower barriers to entry in Massachusetts: for example, there is no statewide cap on licenses, so there is no limit to the opportunities available for entrepreneurs who want to transition to the legal market. And, unlike the medical industry, adult-use licenses are not vertically integrated, which makes opening a business more attainable to those with less capital.
In addition, every single licensee must implement plans to hire diverse staff and support disproportionately harmed communities. Our agency also offers hundreds of individuals who meet equity-based criteria training and technical assistance (the first program of its kind in the nation), reduced fees, a leg up in the application review process, and a carve-out for certain licenses. And, since 2019, the commission has advocated for reform of host community agreements, which applicants say present challenges to entering the industry. The commission isn’t done seeking out additional opportunities to increase access for licensees, but the biggest obstacle to true equity is capital.
While marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, the license applicants that Massachusetts set out to help can’t obtain loans, grants, and other services available to traditional small businesses. This has led to predatory lending and prevented those who were hurt by prohibition from getting involved now that marijuana is legal, even though our Legislature requires it.
Read the rest of Commissioner Camargo’s op-ed here: https://commonwealthmagazine.org/opinion/mass-falling-behind-on-marijuana-equity-mandate/
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