An opportunity to make cannabis industry more equitable
For years, budding marijuana entrepreneurs – particularly those of color – have complained that the legal industry is dominated by Big Pot.
Now is the time for those advocates to take seats at the policy-making table.
The marijuana equity law Gov. Charlie Baker signed in August created a Social Equity Trust Fund, which will offer grants and loans to participants in equity programs, generally those from communities disproportionately affected by prior drug law enforcement.
Applications are now open for seats on the advisory board that will advise the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development on administering the fund. Five board members will serve five-year terms. They will be appointed by the governor, treasurer, and attorney general, and are required to include people with backgrounds in the cannabis industry, finance or commercial lending, business development, and entrepreneurship. They must be from or have experience advocating for communities disproportionately impacted by prior drug laws. Board members must be appointed by January 9, under the law.
Cannabis Control Commissioner Nurys Camargo, in an op-ed on MassLive, urged people from harmed communities to apply. Camargo wrote that marijuana entrepreneurship can provide a pathway to economic stability and generational wealth. But that has not been the reality for many aspiring entrepreneurs. “The communities harmed by the Commonwealth’s disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws still find themselves at a disadvantage, while others profit off the substance that pilfered their communities,” Camargo wrote.
Camargo said the advisory board will provide crucial guidance on the creation of policies and procedures surrounding the fund “and will need to understand the systematic and social structures that have created inequity – past and present – not just business and the cannabis industry.”
“The individuals appointed to the board can make or break this trust fund for years to come,” she wrote.
Some of the most crucial decisions the board will advise on are the size of potential loans and who qualifies. Cannabis activist Grant Ellis said the application for funds needs to be designed in a way that is “intentional and direct” to attract applicants from communities who most need them. He said the loans must be large enough to help entrepreneurs avoid having to obtain financing from predatory lenders. Today, a big concern is that the only way to get start-up capital for a marijuana business is by accepting loans that come with draconian conditions – high interest rates or requirements to give up equity or control.
Aaron Goines, who leads an advocacy group for marijuana delivery companies and previously worked in finance, said he does not want to see the fund give out microgrants. “Fifty-thousand or $100,000 doesn’t get you anywhere in cannabis,” Goines said. “You can burn through that through lawyers or having real estate tied up for a year.” Goines suggested a venture capital model where a large sum of money is given to a company a little at a time, as it meets milestones.
Goines, who is considering applying, said he hopes board members are people who understand economic and industry headwinds – like inflation or the potential impact of a recession on the industry. What the board needs, he said, “is individuals who have business acumen, those who have operated businesses or started up businesses, who have seen economic cycles and can apply some of that knowledge towards the cannabis industry.”
“You want to deploy capital to people you believe are going to be successful, and you hopefully want to avoid burning up cash unnecessarily in the fund,” Goines said.
There will also be pressure to appoint people of color. Ominique Garner, a Black farmer and cannabis activist who plans to apply, said she hopes there can be “more Black and Brown representation at the table.” She added: “I’m hoping we can have real opportunity for the people most impacted and affected by this continuous struggle to have an opportunity at the table to ensure things are divided out equitably and transparently.”
NEW STORIES FROM COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE
Going negative: A super PAC with ties to Gov. Charlie Baker, which typically runs positive ads on behalf of candidates it supports, has begun running negative ads against Sen. Diana DiZoglio, the Democrat running for auditor against Republican Anthony Amore.
– One of the ads, on Facebook, alleges DiZoglio “worked at ‘virulent homophobic’ Alabama church.” DiZoglio says she was raised in the church by her mother and parted ways with the organization as a young adult.
– Baker has endorsed Amore for auditor, and the super PAC, Massachusetts Majority, this week reported spending $100,000 on Amore’s behalf. Read more.
T notes: 1) The MBTA puts low-income fares back on the agenda with a lower price tag, but it’s unclear if and when the board will take the issue up. 2) The MBTA is spending $79 million to relocate underground a 5-year-old aerial communications cable that keeps getting broken by falling tree limbs. The cable is part of a federally required anti-collision system for commuter rail. 3) Ridership keeps climbing, particularly on commuter rail. 4)
The T is now offering an anonymous tip line where employees can report concerns about employee relations, fraud, etc. Read more.
Bus route redesign: After sifting through 20,000 comments, the MBTA unveils a redesign of its May bus route redesign. Once approved, the latest redesign will take five years to roll out, assuming enough bus drivers can be hired and the $119 million in operating funds can be found. Read more.
Key climate strategy: Environmental consultant Kavita Kapur Macleod and Jonathan Thompson of Harvard Forest say forests are the natural solution to the climate crisis. Read more.
High school innovation: Jenny Curtin of the Barr Foundation highlights the innovative approaches being taken by four high schools in the Boston system. Read more.
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Republican gubernatorial nominee Geoff Diehl took a shot at both the Republican Baker administration and his Democratic opponent, Maura Healey, over immigration issues. (Boston Globe)
GBH’s Saraya Wintersmith takes the pulse of the race for district attorney in Plymouth County, where Republican incumbent Timothy Cruz takes on Democratic challenger Rahsaan Hall.
Gov. Charlie Baker reveals in a GBH interview how he will vote on all four ballot questions.
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More than two years after the fact, Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple says he was wrong to not take a stronger stand at the time and now argues that former New York Times op-ed editor James Bennet was unfairly driven out of his job over a controversial op-ed the paper published by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.