Massachusetts legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016, with storefronts opening in 2019. While the East Coast mulls a legalization domino-effect, Massachusetts has been ahead of the curve. In fact, Massachusetts even included social equity provisions within its adult-use legislation. Other states, by contrast, have passed social equity provisions separately.
Massachusetts has aimed to empower minority business owners from the start. However, a year after legalization, people are wondering how effective the Massachusetts social equity program has been in practice.
Long application processes, high costs, and host community applications (HCAs) still prevent people of color from opening dispensaries in Massachusetts. Put simply: despite Massachusetts’ efforts, people of color aren’t benefiting from the burgeoning cannabis industry.
However, the Massachusetts government is still trying to remove barriers for minorities in cannabis. The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy recently voted in favor of Bill S.1123, which would give interest-free loans to social equity applicants. S.1123 would not only establish interest-free loans but set funding minimums for these social equity programs from cannabis tax revenue.
It’s been 15 months since Massachusetts dispensaries opened their doors. Before March 2020, no dispensaries were open in Boston because of zoning changes and regulations. Fortunately, Boston just got its first Economic Empowerment Program-supported dispensary, Pure Oasis, which opened on March 9, 2020.
Entrepreneurs of color are slowly entering the field, but as of February 2020, there were only 10 Economic Empowerment businesses with a license in Massachusetts (out of 260 licenses total).
Although Massachusetts planned for equity from the start, it’s clear that the cannabis equity program hasn’t leveled the playing field. States that get empowerment and diversity right early enough can reap the benefits of a thriving cannabis community. But until then, both entrepreneurs of color and their communities won’t have equal access to the cannabis market.
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