Some advice for crafting final cannabis reform bill
Go with more funding for social equity fund and more community input
AFTER YEARS OF ADVOCACY by community members, entrepreneurs, Cannabis Control Commissioners, and lawmakers, the Legislature is finally on the verge of passing comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will help deliver on Question 4’s promise to support equitable opportunity in this new market.
Both chambers’ bills take major steps toward improving equitable market participation through access to capital, incentives for equity in local licensing, and reforming our broken host community agreement system. Now, the devil is in the details.
This progress wouldn’t have been possible without the support and work of Senate President Karen Spilka; House Speaker Ron Mariano; Rep. Dan Donahue, the House’s cannabis policy chair; Ways & Means chairs Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, and countless other legislators who advanced the policy ideas in this bill.
We also owe a great deal of gratitude to Senate cannabis policy chair Sonia Chang-Diaz, who led the charge on the cannabis equity fund and the overall bill and Sen. Adam Gomez who led on expungement in the Senate, as well as Rep. Chynah Tyler who helped increase funding for social equity in the House.
There are two major pieces of each chamber’s bill that will play a huge role in the future of equitable market participation:
How much to fund the new Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund? The House funded it with 20 percent of cannabis revenue while the Senate only allocated 10 percent. Given that existing law lists community reinvestment as one-fifth of spending priorities for cannabis revenue — and the fact that revenues are so strong that upper- and middle-class tax cuts are being considered – legislative leaders and conferees should adopt the House language allocating 20 percent of cannabis revenue to equity.
Who decides the selection criteria and other regulations for the new equity fund? The Senate empowers a board of community members to create regulations and decide how funds are best reinvested in their community while the House version limits the board to an advisory role and gives the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development final authority.
Those closest to the pain know how best to heal it, which is why it’s critical that the final bill include provisions closer to the Senate language empowering a board of community members to have the final say on the selection criteria, other regulations established for the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, and final approval over recipients.
There are other paths, however, to ensuring that those from marginalized communities have more than an advisory role to be consulted and potentially disregarded. Given the House bill’s deference to the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and in the interest of getting to yes, there are several compromises the conference committee could consider, including:
- Adding language that would expressly prevent the potential for conflicts of interest in the selection approval process through disclosures and/or recusals from the approval process.
- Changing language to empower the board to make recommendations subject to approval of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and/or to empower the community board to affirm potential recipients have met a minimum set of standards. Language could also be added to create a record of any concerns or conditions the board recommend the executive office to impose before making an award.
- Adding two seats on the board for executive office designees so they can influence the regulations as they’re crafted, in addition to their final approval authority, which is already included in the bill.
- If the conference committee ultimately charges the executive office with promulgating the regulations, requiring they both consult and receive approval from the board to ensure the criteria, process, and other aspects meet minimum community needs
Regardless of what path forward they choose, voters and advocates for equitable economic opportunity and social justice will be watching to ensure the cannabis grant and loan trust fund receives the investment it deserves and that the community has meaningful input in how those community reinvestments are made.
More than 20 other community leaders have urged legislators to support these and other important provisions, including the ACLU of Mass., Black Economic Council of Mass., Boston Impact Initiative, Foundation for Business Equity, The Boston Foundation, and Union Capital Boston, among others – and we are grateful that former Cannabis Control Commissioner Chair Steve Hoffman continues to reiterate his support for fully funding cannabis equity.
Shanel Lindsay is a Boston-based attorney and co-founder of Equitable Opportunities Now, a nonprofit that advocates for equitable opportunities in Massachusetts’ cannabis industry. Glynn Lloyd is the executive director of the Foundation for Business Equity and the president and founder of City Fresh Foods. Shaleen Title is the CEO and co-founder of the Parabola Center and serves as distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence at Ohio State University. Title served as a Cannabis Control Commissioner from 2017 until the end of 2020.