Should state finance marijuana businesses?

As fantastical as the idea sounds, a bill that would establish a state-backed loan fund to help marijuana businesses was reported favorably out of a legislative policy committee this week.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat and advocate for minority communities who chairs the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, said the fund could be “a critical and efficient step” in helping communities harmed by the war on drugs, where many entrepreneurs lack financial backing. Small and minority entrepreneurs have so far struggled to gain a foothold in an industry dominated by multi-state medical marijuana companies.

“Many talented small businesses and individuals are waiting in the wings, ready to provide value to the market and build wealth in their communities, if they can just get a foot in the door with start-up capital,” Chang-Diaz said.

Traditional business loans generally are not available to marijuana entrepreneurs, since banks are subject to federal regulations and marijuana remains illegal federally.

Cannabis Control Commission chairman Steve Hoffman, a former Bain and Co. consultant, has long been exploring the idea of some kind of state-backed financing source for marijuana businesses. At one point, Hoffman floated the idea of a state-run bank that marijuana businesses can use, but the Boston Globe reported that Gov. Charlie Baker – who initially opposed marijuana legalization – quickly responded that he had no plans to create one.

The legislation envisions a “Cannabis Social Equity Loan Trust Fund” that would make no-interest loans to economic empowerment applicants and social equity program participants – groups of marijuana entrepreneurs who are generally Massachusetts residents from communities disproportionately affected by enforcement of marijuana laws, including racial minorities, people with drug arrests, and people living in areas with high drug arrest rates.

The loan fund would get up to 10 percent of the revenue collected by the state’s marijuana excise tax, and that money would have to be matched by private donations. The most obvious source of those donations would be larger marijuana companies who are required by state law to implement social impact plans.

The bill would also codify into law the Cannabis Control Commission’s social equity program, which offers technical assistance to equity applicants.

The Cannabis Control Commission had requested that lawmakers create such a fund. Commission officials wrote in a letter to legislators that a number of marijuana businesses already have funds in escrow waiting to contribute to such a fund, and others have expressed willingness to donate.

Another request made by the CCC – to require municipalities to prioritize social equity applicants – was not included in the bill.

The bill is moving forward days before Monday’s opening of the state’s first marijuana store run by an economic empowerment applicant – Pure Oasis, which will also be the first store to open in Boston.

Pure Oasis is planning a press conference Friday with Hoffman and Mayor Marty Walsh, another former opponent of marijuana legalization, who has been criticized for the slow pace of the industry’s rollout in Boston.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


Thank you to the members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for voting to address the Commonwealth’s transportation crisis. The milestone legislation passed this week will help fix local roads, improve public transit across the Commonwealth, and reduce local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. To learn more about the House bill, click here: t4ma.org/housebill.


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker said he’ll veto an increase in the state gas tax, which is included in a transportation funding bill passed by the House, if it reaches his desk. (Boston Herald)

A new report from the state inspector general says mismanagement and payroll violations in the State Police extend far beyond the unit patrolling the Massachusetts Turnpike that has been the focus of attention. (Boston Globe)

Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham seizes on a CommonWealth story about the lack of transparency surrounding legislative committee votes and says all votes should be public. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

East Boston tenant advocates slammed Mayor Marty Walsh’s handling of the Suffolk Downs redevelopment project, which they say does not go far enough in providing affordable housing units. (Boston Herald)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

An $8.3 billion bill to fight the spread of coronavirus is now on President Trump’s desk. (AP) The biggest obstacle to clear messaging on the coronavirus crisis from the administration is Trump himself, who has repeatedly misstated the number of cases in the US, the timeline for a vaccine, and asked whether the standard flu vaccine could be used to ward off the new virus. (Washington Post)

A federal judge slammed Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, saying Barr put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of the findings. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Elizabeth Warren drops out of the presidential race but puts off a decision about throwing her support to one of the remaining candidates. (CommonWealth) The Eagle-Tribune reports on the “heartbreak” among some voters — and local politicians — after Warren dropped out. Did the media fail Warren? (Columbia Journalism Review) America punished Warren for her competence. (The Atlantic)

This week’s election for Republican state committee posts, complete with dirty tricks and Howie Carr robocalls, shows how deep the divisions run in the Massachusetts GOP. (CommonWealth) Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Democratic Party is investigating complaints about a Natick caucus that Sen. Ed Markey won. (MetroWest Daily News)

The Globe takes a look at the take-no-prisoners “Bernie Bros” that have gotten so much attention — to the detriment of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president.

The Gloucester Daily Times looks at why the size of the state’s Libertarian Party is growing — and finds voter dissatisfaction.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Cannabis Control Commission doesn’t like Magic Dragon as a name for a legal marijuana shop. (Telegram & Gazette)

State labor secretary Rosalin Acosta tells a Worcester audience that aging and automation are changing the state’s workforce. (Telegram & Gazette)

The president of the New England Council warns that coronavirus could hurt the state’s economy. (Gloucester Daily Times)

The Department of Homeland Security will issue 35,000 more H-2B visas, the type of visa that is regularly used by seasonal businesses to employ foreign workers across the Cape and Islands. But for the third year in a row, the feds are changing the rules for employers. (Cape Cod Times)

Business officials on the South Shore are getting behind legislation that would allow the Gaming Commission to license a slots parlor rather than a full-scale casino for the southeastern part of the state and would pave the way for a planned gambling facility in Wareham. (State House News Service)

Emily Spieler and Michael Felsen say too many employees are being shortchanged by the current worker’s comp system. (CommonWealth)

EDUCATION

MIT has temporarily banned events with more than 150 people in response to the coronavirus outbreak. (Boston Globe)

Boston officials unveil a new student privacy policy proposal, intending to clarify what information federal immigration officials can access, but they shed little light on how it’s different from what came before. (CommonWealth)

John Hanlon, the chief of operations for the Boston Public Schools, resigns after weeks on leave. (WBUR)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Three workers who attended a Biogen conference in Massachusetts last week have Covid-19. All three left Massachusetts after the conference. (WBUR)

Three Springfield Public School staff are quarantined after traveling to Italy. (MassLive)

In another coronavirus scare, Plymouth schools will be closed for cleaning Friday after a local student who traveled to Italy last month was taken to the hospital Wednesday night with flu-like symptoms. (Patriot Ledger)

The Springfield Republican editorial board writes about the dangers posed by a US Supreme Court case, June Medical Services vs. Russo, that could place further restrictions on abortion rights.

A Worcester home health care agency is fined $400,000 for failing to pay overtime. (Telegram & Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

Massachusetts’ public transit systems are stepping up their cleaning efforts amid the coronavirus outbreak. (MassLive)

US Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren ask airlines to waive customer change and cancellation fees amid the coronavirus scare. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Class action lawyers — whose fees Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera challenged in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions settlement  case — say Rivera is making a political, not a legal, argument. (Eagle-Tribune)

CASINOS

The coronavirus is taking a toll on the global companies that own the state’s two casinos in Everett and Springfield. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The family of Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir, who had an opioid addiction and died in the custody of Hampden County sheriff’s office, is suing the sheriff’s office and the Springfield Police Department for failing to provide her with proper medical attention. (MassLive)