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The Boston City Council’s Committee on Jobs, Wages & Workforce Development held a working session on December 6 to discuss recommendations the city can make regarding equitable ownership of marijuana businesses. Industry experts, advocates and business owners participated in three panels, and produced a variety of ideas that the Council will present to the state Treasurer’s office, which oversees the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission and Advisory Panel.
Session sponsor, Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley, kicked things off by reminding the chamber that thanks to hard-working advocates, the initiative passed by Massachusetts voters on November 8 includes a “first-of-its kind provision requiring the Commission to develop procedures and policies to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement, and to positively impact those communities.”
The first panel included attorney Adam Fein of Vicente Sederberg, attorney and founder of Ardent Cannabis Shanel Lindsay, Mountain Medicinals’ Jamie Lewis, and Wanda James, the first African
American woman to obtain a license and open a marijuana dispensary in Colorado. Their comments focused on zoning, training, and reducing barriers to entry. They cited racial disparities in Colorado’s program, which has rolled out with only 3 out of 541 dispensaries owned by African Americans.
“We have an opportunity to be deliberate, proactive and intentional in ensuring that we don’t see those disparities [in Boston],” said Councilwoman Pressley.
The panel also urged the Council to look at marijuana like a real business, and to prepare for investments into community and professional education. Additional recommendations ranged from setting aside specific numbers of dispensary licenses for communities most affected by the war on drugs, to license fee recommendations, residency requirements, job fairs, job training and transitional training programs for people coming out of the prison system.
The second panel included Chris Alexander from the Drug Policy Alliance, Dr. Malik Burnett from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, attorney Shaleen Title of THC Staffing attorney, and Professor Alex Kreight, visiting professor at Boston College Law School, and Matt Allen of the Massachusetts ACLU. They agreed with the first panel and added ideas such as creating urban impact zones where the majority of businesses in a particular area are related to cannabis, earmarking tax revenue for training and community redevelopment, data collection from business owners related to hiring and staffing, establishing grants for training police on biases in drug law enforcement, and incentivizing dispensaries and other cannabis businesses to hire inclusively.
“I want to see sealing and expungement programs, job fairs, cannabis-specific job skills trainings, and entrepreneur assistance to help people realize their dreams,” said Shaleen Title. “Part of implementing the will of the voters is to develop sound recommendations that begin to heal the decades of damage caused by our senseless prohibition policies.”
City Councilor Tito Jackson noted that the city of Boston is 53% people of color, and suggested a tax incentive for employers who hire people with arrest records. He then reminded the chamber of the city’s unemployment numbers: in a state with a 3.9% unemployment rate, the city of Boston has a 13.9% unemployment rate for Black people and 11.4% unemployment rate for Hispanics.
“There is an opportunity here to really begin to chip away at that exponential disparity,” said Councilor Jackson. “I think it’s really critical that we let people know what the rules are, and that we get the information out because the biggest gap that we have is information for people who are literally trying to change their lives.”
The state Treasurer’s office must abide by a specific timeline 2017 and 2018, as outlined in the initiative, to fulfill the will of the voters who chose to legalize recreational marijuana. The recommendations and testimony at the December 6 hearing were respectfully received by the City Council, who recognize the opportunity the city has now to be a national model for other cities as legalization spreads across the country.
“I commend Councilor Pressley for ordering this hearing and working session,” Shaleen Title said after the hearing. “We have an opportunity to be the first state to ensure an equitable marijuana industry that addresses the harms caused by the war on drugs. I think there is largely agreement to avoid the centralized wealth and power in so many other industries, and instead focus on providing economic opportunities that are fair and just.”
Feature image: Old State House and State Street, Boston 1801 by artist James Brown Marston