For the most part, cannabis reform measures across the United States have included social equity provisions designed to address the harms of the war on drugs. Long considered to be a failure, the drug war disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities and exacerbated systemic racial biases. More than two decades after California legalized recreational and medical cannabis, states are passing cannabis legalization measures with robust social equity and criminal justice provisions to compensate these communities and give them a leg-up in the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry.
In Massachusetts, for example, lawmakers recently passed sweeping cannabis legislation with a major focus on promoting diversity and equity in the cannabis market. The measure would give disenfranchised communities a chance to enter Massachusetts’ $2 billion cannabis industry before the market is captured by large multistate corporations. Signed into law by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, the bill creates a Social Equity Trust Fund that will award loans and grants to cannabis entrepreneurs who were impacted by the war on drugs. It will also give state cannabis regulators more oversight over the fees charged to cannabis businesses by local governments.
This move will protect businesses from municipalities that levy controversial fees on local marijuana businesses, especially smaller businesses that simply can’t afford to cover these fees. According to Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission member Ava Callender Concepcion, the passage of the bill left her shaking with relief and happiness. She called the measure “monumental,” stating in an interview with the Berkshire Eagle that it is a major step forward in regard to fixing the problems that plague the Massachusetts cannabis industry.
The measure will enable local governments to decide whether or not they will allow cannabis consumption lounges via votes or bylaws. It will also give marijuana businesses leeway to open cannabis consumption lounges in locations that had received prior approval in a pilot program. Concepcion explained that the recent bill was the most comprehensive resolution on cannabis since the state Cannabis Control Commission was founded.
However, not every industry executive is as excited as Concepcion, with some saying that the bill could have gone even further in ensuring that those who were disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs are provided with business opportunities in the state’s cannabis industry.
The Minority Cannabis Business Association’s (MCBA) 2022 Equity Report states that Massachusetts was the first state to include social equity provisions as part of its recreational cannabis market in 2018. This first social equity program mainly focused on exclusively providing courier, delivery and consumption-site licenses to members of minority and other marginalized communities.
These equity programs are a step in the right direction in the eyes of operators such as Advanced Container Technologies Inc. (OTC: ACTX) since they offer opportunities to as many interested people as possible instead of concentrating those opportunities in the hands of large corporations.
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