Massachusetts Legislature Passes Bill to Foster Greater Equity in Cannabis Industry
BOSTON — The Massachusetts Legislature passed legislation, An Act Relative to Equity in the Cannabis Industry,cthat encourages and facilitates participation in the cannabis industry from communities disproportionally harmed by marijuana criminalization by creating a Social Equity Trust Fund. The bill also strengthens the host-community-agreement process and clarifies procedures for permitting social-consumption sites.
“This legislation will create a more equitable cannabis industry in the Commonwealth, and I am pleased to see it reach the governor’s desk,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said. “I am deeply grateful for the hard work put into this bill by the conferees, led by Senator [Michael] Rodrigues and Representative [Daniel] Donahue. They approached this issue with expertise and compassion, and the resulting bill will bring more diversity and equity to this industry.”
The legislation creates a trust fund to make grants and loans to social-equity program participants and economic-empowerment priority applicants, which will give entrepreneurs from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement better access to grants and loans to get their businesses off the ground.
Fifteen percent of the revenue collected from the sale of marijuana and marijuana products must be transferred to the trust fund, which will be administered by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development in consultation with a newly created Cannabis Social Equity Advisory Board.
The legislation clarifies the Cannabis Control Commission’s (CCC) role in reviewing and approving host-community agreements (HCAs), which are executed between marijuana businesses and their host municipalities. It authorizes the commission to prioritize social-equity program businesses and economic-empowerment priority applicants for expedited review.
The legislation also clarifies the scope of HCAs and adds new criteria. No host-community agreement can include a community-impact fee that is beyond the business’s eighth year of operation, the community-impact fee must be reasonably related to the actual costs required to operate a cannabis business in a community, the CCC must review and approve each host-community agreement as part of the license application and renewal process, and all host communities must establish procedures and policies to encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement.
The social-consumption policy, which would allow the sale of marijuana and marijuana products for consumption on the premises where sold, is authorized by existing law. However, this new legislation amends it to ensure proper procedures are taken regarding local initiative petitions. Under this legislation, as an alternative to local initiative petitions, a city or town may also allow for social-consumption sites through the passage of a bylaw or ordinance.
In addition, for individuals seeking to expunge a record for previous offenses that are now decriminalized, this legislation requires the court to order the expungement of the record within 30 days of the request and expunge records for possession of marijuana or distribution of marijuana based on the now legal amount.
“Communities of color across our country have historically been criminalized, prosecuted, and left out of the conversation in regards to cannabis legalization,” state Sen. Adam Gomez said. “When cannabis was legalized in Massachusetts, those same communities continued to be barred from the conversation table and left behind, with historic barriers preventing them from growing small businesses in meaningful ways. The legislation passed by the Legislature will remove those barriers while making changes to expedite the expungement process. It is incomprehensible that anyone who was charged with a marijuana-related offense still has that on their record in our state, especially when you can drive down the street to a dispensary to buy the same product that that person was arrested for. I was proud to support this legislation and can’t wait to see cannabis businesses run by BIPOC owners flourish as a result.”
Having been passed by the Senate and the House, the bill now goes to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.