30 Nov Massachusetts’ pot laws should push states like Colorado to do better.
On November 20, Massachusetts became the seventh state to open recreational cannabis dispensaries. These dispensaries — the first recreational stores to open in the Northeast — are still causing major traffic jams, as “cannabis tourists” eagerly travel from around the region.
Massachusetts is the first state to include a section, in their cannabis law, which promotes participation by minority communities. It’s the first time a state has officially acknowledged that the war on drugs disproportionately targeted minorities — and sought reparative justice. (Most people arrested for marijuana crimes are black or Latino, while white people use cannabis at equivalent rates.) It’s also the first state not to ban convicted felons from working in the cannabis industry.
In other legal adult-use states, people with arrest records are largely prohibited from working in the legal industry. This has effectively kept many people of color out of the industry, due to the racially-disparate policing in America.
According to BuzzFeed News, less than one percent of cannabis business owners are black. Other research suggests the numbers are closer to four percent. Massachusetts is attempting to create greater equity.
“The idea here is to create a form of equity where it’s not about making sure that everyone is in the same exact spot, but it’s about creating a level playing field where everyone has a chance,” Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title told Boston radio station WBUR.
In Massachusetts, you can qualify for the state equity program if you’re a state resident with a past drug conviction, or if your parent or spouse has a drug conviction. Or if you’ve been living in a neighborhood that was disproportionately impacted by drug policing, and your income is within range of the poverty level.
If you qualify, the program will provide training, professional development, and technical assistance. You’ll get access to great resources, like one-on-one consultations, workshops or digital resources and legal advice. The state may also be willing to waive your licensing fees, if you’re applying to start a cannabis business.
This cannabis social equity program was first pioneered by the city of Oakland, California.
Here in Colorado, the first state to open recreational marijuana dispensaries, black people are nearly three times more likely than white people to get arrested for marijuana-related crimes, according to a 2016 report by the Colorado Department of Public Safety. And it’s still challenging for people with criminal records to have a chance in the industry.
It’s time to shape the cannabis industry into the one we want to see. Colorado could learn from the social equity programs in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, which are now being implemented by an entire state, for the very first time, in Massachusetts.