Under the state’s current social equity program, only 23 of the state’s 253 licensed cannabis businesses are owned by entrepreneurs qualified for the economic empowerment and social equity programs administered by the Cannabis Control Commission. Shanel Lindsay, the co-founder of the advocacy group Equitable Opportunities Now, praised lawmakers in the House for the change and urged senators to retain the higher percentage in a compromise version of the bill.
This wasn’t always Kee’s plan. She says that she was selling weed on the black market until Boston attorney and activist Shanel Lindsay, who serves on the Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board, approached her and encouraged her to go legal. Eventually, she enrolled in the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission’s Social Equity Program, where she attended workshops, classes, and trainings on cannabis entrepreneurship in Massachusetts.
“We are excited and thankful to the Senate for pushing this bill forward, but disappointed by the low allocation to the equity fund,” said Shanel Lindsay
She co-founded a nonprofit called Equitable Opportunities Now to push equitable applications of existing laws and new ones. This year, the nonprofit and local activists organized a boycott and social media campaign against members of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association — a trade group representing brick-and-mortar companies — to defend a regulation aimed at bringing historically underrepresented minorities into the industry.
“There’s no other industry that is so intrinsically connected to the criminalization of Black and Brown people,” Lindsay says. “… If there’s not equity baked into cannabis, what hope is there left for any kind of justice when it comes to the unfair treatment of people of color in America?”
In 2014, when medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts, Lindsay started her own law practice. In 2015 she started Ardent, and Equitable Opportunities Now, or EON, a non-profit that fights to preserve equity provisions in cannabis laws to create equal opportunities for businesses and those seeking cannabis licenses.
“Despite the fact that we worked tirelessly for over five years, minority ownership is almost non-existent. So yes, we should be angry and offended when, as we’re starting to make small steps towards equity in these delivery licenses, that like clockwork the same corporate interests focused only on preserving their unearned monopoly come in to push back on equity and to crush us.”
Advocates “shouldn’t be afraid to push for exclusivity” for equity applicants in markets’ first few years, given that resources and training only help if you’ve got a seat at the table, and enough time to use it.
“Even our roadblocks are paving the way for other people to make better equity programs,” she said. “I don’t see anything that we do here as a failure, because we are blazing new trails and important work isn’t easy work. But we need to hurry.”
Advisory Board member Shanel Lindsay, from Equity Opportunities Now and operations manager for Ardent, said a lot of people in Massachusetts are excited about recreational marijuana dispensaries opening including patients, consumers and those looking to get into the industry.