Massachusetts Advances Its Unique Cannabis Social Equity Program

    On July 17, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) approved six organizations to provide technical and financial assistance to budding cannabis entrepreneurs who are eligible for the state’s Social Equity Program (SEP)the first of its kind in the nation.

    These six social equity “vendors” will consult with and educate SEP applicants who have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, including people from low-income areas and those who have suffered drug arrests and convictions.

    The CCC chose the six from 15 candidates; the successful applicants must now reach a “negotiated Statement of Work” and enter into a “Master Agreement” with the Commission before they start helping SEP applicants.

    The six organizations are:

    * Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN): a provider of advocacy, research and education services, which intends to partner with Holyoke Community College for its contract

    * Greenlight Business Solutions, LLC: a provider of client services for navigating the cannabis industry

    * Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council: a nonprofit that seeks to ensure the safety of recreational marijuana consumers by bridging the gaps between communities, local legislators and Massachusetts businesses

    * Point7: a woman-owned, tenured, global management consulting firm in the cannabis industry

    * Four Trees Management, LLC: a cultivation consulting company focused on sustainability and environmental stewardship

    * Marketing Edge Consulting Group: a woman-owned business that collaborates with public and private organizations to help small business owners and entrepreneurs

    The CCC opened applications for its SEP in December 2018, and states that 100 individuals have so far been accepted.

    Applicants must meet one of two criteria: They must either have lived for five of the last 10 years in an “area of disproportionate impact” and have an income under 400 percent of the federal poverty level; or they must have a past drug conviction, or be the spouse or child of someone who does, and have lived in Massachusetts for the past year.

    Massachusetts’ progress is the latest development in a national movement for cannabis justice in a post-legalization world.

    The six Massachusetts social equity vendors will now develop their own programs to help social equity applicants complete the licensing process and open a business. The CCC has specified four teaching tracks to meet applicants’ different needs: “Entrepreneur,” for those interested in starting up a company; “Core,” for those with prior industry experience; “Re-Entry and Entry Level,” for those who have been incarcerated; and “Ancillary,” for those whose companies are not “plant-touching.”

    Massachusetts CCC’s progress is the latest development in a national movement for cannabis justice in a post-legalization world. Filter has previously reported on the efforts of cities like Los Angeles and Portland to provide funding and other forms of assistance to cannabis business owners who suffered the most under prohibition. 

    Such programs have often suffered from poor implementation. Common problems include frequent delays, underfunding, or working disputes between equity applicants and their business partners. In Massachusetts, nearly three years after statewide legalization, there are still no retail cannabis dispensaries owned by social equity licensees.

    A major hurdle for cannabis entrepreneurs is compliance—something the Massachusetts program seeks to address. Businesses must navigate state, local and federal regulations and laws, including zoning codes, taxes and licensing processes.

    Cannabis operators in Massachusetts must be approved not just by the state commission but also by their municipal or city governments. Under state law, cities must negotiate host community agreements with these businesses. Some of these agreements have required that businesses pay fees to their cities as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

    “While understanding regulations and procedures is a difficult task, access to sufficient capital is probably the biggest barrier for any cannabis entrepreneur,” Joe Gilmore, co-founder of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, told Filter. “We need to see a funding mechanism in place so that the entrepreneurs we train are adequately equipped to grow and compete in the adult-use market.”

    “If you support an equitable cannabis industry, your voice needs to be heard,” Gilmore said. “Your local and state legislators must understand the importance of repairing and uplifting communities targeted by the War on Drugs. Get civically engaged in the development of your local cannabis policies and support cannabis businesses who are dedicated to social equity.”

    Photograph of Steven Hoffman, Chairman of Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC); by CCC via Twitter.  

    • Alexander is Filter’s staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it’s actually alright. He’s also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter‘s editorial fellow.

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