Cambridge City Council has imposed a two-year ban on anyone opening a recreational cannabis store if they do not come from a historically marginalized group.

The council voted 7-0 in favour of the Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance in a meeting on Monday night. Councillors Denise Simmons and Timothy Toomey Jr. abstained from the vote.

The legislation paves the way for recreational cannabis stores to open across the city, which is part of the Boston metropolitan area and has a population of around 120,000.

Massachusetts elected to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016, a century after it became the first state to outlaw marijuana. Legal sales finally began in November 2018 and hit $140 million during the first six months of trading.

However, Cambridge waited until earlier this year before it began considering whether or not it should permit recreational cannabis stores. The council has now voted in favour of allowing them, but not before councillors Sumbul Siddiqui and Quinton Zondervan imposed an amendment last week.

It imposes a two-year moratorium that prevents anyone who does not come from a historically marginalized group from gaining a license to open a recreational marijuana dispensary.

A group called Real Action for Cannabis Equity launched in Boston earlier this month after expressing frustration that 182 of 184 marijuana business licenses in Massachusetts have gone to white people.

“The black community in Cambridge has been severely impacted by cannabis prohibition and the war on drugs, and it’s our responsibility to address that,” said Zondervan.

The legislation creates a two-year period of exclusivity for “priority applicants”, defined as those certified by the Commonwealth as Economic Empowerment or Social Equity Program applicants, or women or minority-owned businesses.

The idea is to prevent big companies from dominating the industry and give local entrepreneurs unfairly punished by the war on drugs a chance to establish themselves. Anyone else can apply after two years, although Cambridge’s existing medical marijuana dispensary owners have threatened to sue.

Simmons proposed an alternative amendment, which would have allowed those medical marijuana dispensaries to be able to sell recreational cannabis provided they paid into a fund that assists “economic empowerment” businesses. These are defined as being led by, employing, or benefiting members of communities hit hardest by high rates of drug arrests.

That amendment was not added to the bill when it was advanced for Monday’s vote.

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