Boston City Council will create an independent cannabis board in an effort to help more entrepreneurs from minority backgrounds set up marijuana businesses.
Ordinance proposed by City Councillor Kim Janey sought to introduce a sweeping overhaul of Boston’s licensing process and it passed in a 12-1 vote this week. It means that there will now be a new oversight board to manage the licensing process, and it will give priority to individuals from communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
In future at least 50% of new licenses must go to individuals and companies from communities affected by the war on drugs, or “equity” applicants. “I am proud that the mayor and the council are taking this very important step forward together to ensure equity in our process,” Janey said.
Boston will also create Massachusetts’ first local fund to support minority-owned cannabis companies. It will divert marijuana tax revenues towards offering business and technical assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs.
The idea is also to provide “economic justice” to minority communities that have been hit by the prohibition of marijuana.
The state legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 and 200 licenses have been issued since then, but only 10 are owned by minorities or people from “disadvantaged populations”. A total of 33 recreational cannabis stores have opened their doors in Massachusetts, but none are minority-owned.
Real Action for Cannabis Equity launched in Boston earlier this year after expressing frustration that the overwhelming majority of marijuana business licenses in Massachusetts have gone to white people.
Boston residents with prior cannabis convictions will also be considered as priority applicants.
It follows in the footsteps of Cambridge City Council imposing a two-year ban on anyone opening a recreational cannabis store if they do not come from a historically marginalized group.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission is moving into new 13,100-square-foot offices at Worcester’s Union Station. It comes amid a federal investigation into local corruption in the state’s cannabis industry, which is unique in that it requires “host community agreements” between marijuana businesses and local municipalities.
A cannabis company cannot gain a state license until it ties up an agreement with a local community, and some local officials are accused of extortion. Shaleen Title, one of five commissioners, said the environment is ripe for corruption.