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EON testifies in support of slate of statehouse cannabis equity bills

The investments and policy decisions we make now will have a lasting impact on whether we create a truly equitable industry.

Equitable Opportunities Now Policy Co-Chair Kevin Gilnack testified before the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy during a hybrid hearing on access and equity legislation and the EON policy team submitted the detailed written testimony below in support of bills to advance equitable economic opportunity in the cannabis industry.

Talking Joints Memo ran two op-eds highlighting our comments on the need to equitably reinvest cannabis revenue into restorative justice and support equity businesses:

EON’s legislative agenda for cannabis equity includes:

  • Equitably reinvesting cannabis revenue in communities harmed by the war on drugs
    • An Act relative to equitable allocation of cannabis revenue
      • S55 sponsored by Sen. Liz Miranda
    • An Act relative to reinvestment of cannabis revenue
      • S56 sponsored by Sen. Liz Miranda 
  • Removing barriers to equitable participation in the cannabis industry
    • An Act to remove HCA real estate barriers to equitable participation in the cannabis industry
      • H124 sponsored by Rep. Chynah Tyler
    • An Act relative to vertical integration of medical marijuana businesses
      • H117 sponsored by Rep. David M. Rogers
  • Promoting cannabis businesses
    • An Act to encourage equitable cannabis business ownership
      • S57 sponsored by Sen. Liz Miranda
    • An Act to support cannabis equity businesses
      • S53 sponsored by Sen. Jason M. Lewis
  • Creating career pathways for justice-involved individuals
    • An Act to create Cannabis career pathways for justice-involved individuals
      • S52 sponsored by Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen
    • An Act to create cannabis career pathways to incarcerated individuals
      • H123 sponsored by Rep. Chynah Tyler

Make your voice heard

Our voice is louder when we speak out together, so please be a part of helping pass these bills by speaking out now!

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Email your legislators: Look up your state representative and state senator and write them an email asking them to support these bills by urging the Conference Committee to favorably report these bills.
    • Make it personal by sharing your story and explaining how these bills would help you or your community
    • Feel free to use anything in our testimony below that you find helpful
  2. Email testimony to the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy: Written testimony must be submitted to Meriah.Metzger@MAHouse.gov. The subject line of the email should include “testimony” and the relevant bill number(s). If you have any questions, you may email Liza.Rosenof@MAHouse.gov or Madeleine.Holden@MASenate.gov.

Cannabis Access & Equity Bills

Bill No. Sponsor Title 
H108 Garry, Colleen M. (HOU) An Act relative to equity In the cannabis industry 
H119 Soter, Michael J. (HOU An Act further defining eligibility for medical use marijuana 
H122 Sullivan-Almeida, Alyson M. (HOU) An Act relative to a medical marijuana pilot program 
H123 Tyler, Chynah (HOU) An Act to create cannabis career pathways to incarcerated individuals 
H124 Tyler, Chynah (HOU) An Act to remove HCA real estate barriers to equitable participation in the cannabis industry 
S50 Fattman, Ryan C. (SEN) An Act further defining eligibility for medical use marijuana 
S52 Jehlen, Patricia D. (SEN) An Act to create Cannabis career pathways for justice-involved individuals 
S53 Lewis, Jason M. (SEN) An Act to support cannabis equity businesses 
S55 Miranda, Liz (SEN) An Act relative to equitable allocation of cannabis revenue 
S56 Miranda, Liz (SEN) An Act relative to reinvestment of cannabis revenue 
S57Miranda, Liz (SEN)An Act to encourage equitable cannabis business ownership 

EON Testimony to Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy Regarding Access & Equity Bills

June 27, 2023

The Honorable Adam Gomez
Senate Chair, Joint Committee on the Judiciary
State House, Rm 413-B
Boston, MA 02133

The Honorable Daniel M. Donahue
House Chair, Joint Committee on the Judiciary
State House, Rm 544
Boston, MA 02133

RE: Testimony in support of cannabis equity bills S52, H123, S53, S55, S56, S57, H117, H124, & H119

Dear Chair Gomez, Chair Donahue, and Honorable Members of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy:

Thank you again for your thoughtful leadership in developing and passing “An Act Relative to Equity in the Cannabis Industry” and for the Legislature’s long-term commitment to advancing the social justice goals voters approved in legalizing cannabis through Ballot Question 4.

Thanks to your persistence and the support of Senate President Spilka, Speaker Mariano, and your colleagues, Massachusetts will, at last, join other states in distributing a small share of cannabis tax revenue back toward entrepreneurs harmed by the War on Drugs, and improve equity in municipal licensing, curb abuses of HCAs, open the door to the social consumption market, and enable people to more easily secure expungements.

This landmark law is a significant step forward in our march toward a more equitable industry, and yet Black and Brown entrepreneurs and justice-involved individuals are still falling further behind in the race to build this market.

They’ve been left behind by a policy that gave existing medical operators a first-mover advantage – effectively driving capital toward well-funded existing operators and applicants and undercutting the intended impact of priority review for Economic Empowerment applicants.

They’ve been left behind by municipal HCA negotiations that have favored large multi-state operators and those who can afford to pay top dollar.

They’ve been left behind by an increasingly saturated market during the two two-year legislative sessions it took to pass the Commonwealth’s historic new equity law.

And they will continue to be left behind as we wait for new regulations and the new cannabis social equity fund to be fully funded and online – and even after if we don’t commit to meaningful reinvestment of cannabis revenue.

As of June 8, 2023, the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) had issued 1,478 applications, which include only:

  • 108 Economic Empowerment Applicants (7.3%)
  • 304 Social Equity Program Participants (20.6%)
  • 232 Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (15.7%)

As time marches farther and farther away from the passage of Question 4 in 2016, the communities that voters and legislators sought to empower drift farther and farther behind, which is why we urge you to act boldly and take big strides to help equity catch up this session.

We have seen recent examples – from the COVID public health response to setting up sports betting, submarine rescues to highway repair – of what the government is capable of doing when there’s an urgent need. And right now, CCC licensing numbers highlight the urgent need for action on cannabis equity.

Black and Brown entrepreneurs can’t afford to keep waiting and falling behind. The investments and policy decisions we make now will have a lasting impact on whether we create a truly equitable industry.

We submit this testimony in support of the following bills to stress that there is an urgent need for bold leadership that will make meaningful strides in removing barriers and improving opportunities for the entrepreneurs and communities most impacted by the harms of over-policing and the War on Drugs.

We would like to thank Sen. Liz Miranda, Sen. Pat Jehlen, Sen. Jason Lewis, Rep. Chynah Tyler, and Rep. Dave Rogers for their continued commitment to creating a more equitable industry, and urge you to favorably report the following legislative agenda for cannabis equity:

  • Equitably reinvesting cannabis revenue in communities harmed by the war on drugs
    • An Act relative to equitable allocation of cannabis revenue
      • S55 sponsored by Sen. Liz Miranda
    • An Act relative to reinvestment of cannabis revenue
      • S56 sponsored by Sen. Liz Miranda 
  • Removing barriers to equitable participation in the cannabis industry
    • An Act to remove HCA real estate barriers to equitable participation in the cannabis industry
      • H124 sponsored by Rep. Chynah Tyler
    • An Act relative to vertical integration of medical marijuana businesses
      • H117 sponsored by Rep. David M. Rogers
  • Promoting cannabis businesses
    • An Act to encourage equitable cannabis business ownership
      • S57 sponsored by Sen. Liz Miranda
    • An Act to support cannabis equity businesses
      • S53 sponsored by Sen. Jason M. Lewis
  • Creating career pathways for justice-involved individuals
    • An Act to create Cannabis career pathways for justice-involved individuals
      • S52 sponsored by Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen
    • An Act to create cannabis career pathways to incarcerated individuals
      • H123 sponsored by Rep. Chynah Tyler

Before elaborating further on the bills included in EON’s legislative agenda, we also want to acknowledge and thank Rep. Michael J. Soter, Sen. Ryan Fattman, and Stephen Mandile for their advocacy on behalf of expanding medical cannabis access to veterans and express our support for H119 and S50.

Equitably reinvesting cannabis revenue in communities harmed by the war on drugs

When amending the voter-approved Ballot Question 4, the Legislature took an important first step in creating a framework for reinvesting cannabis tax revenue for social justice, writing: 

Money in the fund shall be subject to appropriation.  Money in the fund shall be expended for the implementation, administration and enforcement of this chapter by the commission and by the department of agricultural resources for the implementation, administration and enforcement of sections 116 to 123, inclusive, of chapter 128 and the provision of pesticide control pursuant to chapter 132B.  Thereafter, money in the fund shall be expended for: (i) public and behavioral health including but not limited to, evidence-based and evidence-informed substance use prevention and treatment and substance use early intervention services in a recurring grant for school districts or community coalitions who operate on the strategic prevention framework or similar structure for youth substance use education and prevention; (ii) public safety; (iii) municipal police training; (iv) the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund established in section 2G of chapter 111; and (v) programming for restorative justice, jail diversion, workforce development, industry specific technical assistance, and mentoring services for economically-disadvantaged persons in communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for marijuana offenses pursuant to chapter 94C.” (emphasis added)

Five and a half years later, this Committee and the Legislature helped to preserve the Commonwealth’s status as a national leader in cannabis equity by joining six other states (Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Vermont) that reinvest cannabis tax revenue into capitalizing applicants from communities harmed by the War on Drugs by establishing the Cannabis Social Equity Fund and at last appropriating a portion of cannabis tax revenue to this urgently needed restorative justice program.

The creation of that fund and establishment of a dedicated revenue stream was a crucial beacon of hope for people struggling to enter this industry, yet we already know that it will not be enough – and we know that we can and must do better.

In 2017, when legalization’s impact on public health and safety was unknown and law enforcement was still adjusting to changes in the law, it may have made sense to potentially invest cannabis revenue into the five priorities detailed in the statute. But after six years of experience, it is clear that the impact of legalization has been negligible on law enforcement agencies and behavioral and public health services.

Eighty percent of the cannabis revenue priorities contemplated by statute have not demonstrated a need for significant investments of new revenue. And yet the one-fifth of the priorities that urgently need investment was ultimately only funded with 15% of cannabis tax revenue.

An analysis of the Commonwealth’s FY21, FY22, and FY23 budgets shows that nearly three-quarters of the more than $380,000,000 discretionary spending from the Marijuana Regulation Fund has been directed to supplement existing Bureau of Substance Addiction Services programs, with the remainder going to public health, after school programs, higher education support services, the criminal justice system, and modest community investments (See Appendix A).

While the fifteen percent of cannabis revenue dedicated to the Cannabis Social Equity Fund is a promising first step toward making a meaningful investment in restorative justice, a truly equitable allocation would dedicate the balance of all cannabis revenue not necessary for regulation or mitigation back toward the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

While we recognize that the Legislature has other spending priorities for cannabis tax revenue, we urge you to take two modest steps toward more meaningful – and equitable – distribution of those funds towards restorative justice by updating Section 14(b) of Chapter 94G to:

  1. Increase the percentage of money in the fund transferred to the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund to 50%
  2. Reflect that after more than half a decade, law enforcement is adequately trained in cannabis laws and that we should prioritize appropriating those funds to community programs rather than the criminal justice system

Two bills filed by Sen. Miranda provide a path for making a meaningful and urgently needed investment that could enable more than three times as many Black and Brown businesses to find opportunity in the Commonwealth’s cannabis industry and help ensure a more equitable appropriation of cannabis revenue in the future. 

S56 would update existing law to divest cannabis revenues from law enforcement, and S55 includes that change and increases Cannabis Social Equity Fund funding to 50% of cannabis revenues. We strongly urge you to favorably report these bills and make a meaningful investment in capitalizing economic opportunity for the communities most harmed by the war on drugs before it is too late.

Removing Barriers to Equitable Participation

The second most significant barrier for entrepreneurs seeking opportunities in the cannabis industry after access to capital is real estate. Presently, a signed lease is commonly necessary to secure a host community agreement, provisional license, and advance through the process – often resulting in months or years of burning tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for empty space as they navigate the process.

Thankfully, state and local leaders are increasingly recognizing the inequity created by requiring a lease or letter of intent so early in the process, and the Cannabis Control Commission has already established a “pre-certification” process contemplated for social consumption licenses to provide equity applicants with some documentation about potential viability to bring to municipalities as they negotiate host community agreements.

However, further legislative clarity would be helpful to guide cities and towns toward giving fair and equitable consideration to small local businesses from disparately harmed communities that might not have the resources to pay rent on an empty building for months or years. H124 sponsored by Rep. Chynah Tyler would build on the Legislature’s mandate that the CCC provide guidance to municipalities on encouraging equitable participation in HCA negotiations to make explicitly clear that holding real estate for an unreasonably long time is not necessary for an otherwise viable applicant to advance through the early stages of the application process and greatly reduce barriers for Black and Brown businesses.

Additionally, H117 would provide a significant and long overdue new opportunity for local entrepreneurs from communities harmed by the war on drugs and open up a market that has been almost exclusively reserved for well-financed multistate operators. “An Act relative to vertical integration of medical marijuana businesses” sponsored by Rep. David M. Rogers would eliminate the requirement that medical treatment centers be vertically integrated, owning cultivation, manufacturing, and retail facilities.

While vertical integration may have played a helpful role in reducing the burden on the Department of Public Health and later the CCC in vetting applications and regulating the new industry early on, the CCC has demonstrated a proven ability to review and inspect a wide variety of licensees in the non-vertically integrated adult-use market.

The vertical integration requirement in the medical cannabis industry has created an artificial cost-prohibitive barrier by requiring anyone wishing to open a relatively low-cost medical dispensary to also be able to open a multimillion-dollar cultivation facility. Removing that requirement will not only possibly encourage new equity applicants to seek medical licenses, it will also expand the possibility of offering colocated medical cannabis to patients for retailers who are already offering adult use. H117 is good for patients, good for competition, and good for expanding equitable economic opportunity and we hope that you will support it.

We urge you to favorably report H117 and H124 to remove barriers and increase opportunities for equity applicants and licensees in the Commonwealth’s cannabis industry.

Promoting Cannabis Businesses

Based on convenings and surveys of our stakeholders, many of whom are Economic Empowerment applicants and licensee and Social Equity Program participants, it has become evident that there are some very modest steps that the Legislature and Cannabis Control Commission could take that would have a major impact.

Without the resources for influential lobbyists, consultants, and marketing companies, entrepreneurs from communities disparately impacted by the War on Drugs are often at a disadvantage from the start without support or guidance to connect to the resources and opportunities available to them when they’re getting started, or to market their business competitively once they’re up and running.

S57 sponsored by Sen. Liz Miranda and S53 sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis both aim to reduce barriers to entry and success. 

S57, “An Act to Encourage Equitable Cannabis Business Ownership,” would direct the Cannabis Control Commission to partner with community representatives from the Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board and Cannabis Social Equity Advisory Board, as well as the Executive Office of Economic Development, to create a public awareness campaign targeting disparately harmed communities, justice-involved individuals, and other entrepreneurs harmed by the war on drugs to help them connect with opportunities in the industry.

At a time when consumers are increasingly trying to shop their values, “An Act to Support Cannabis Equity Businesses” will finally create a mechanism for consumers to identify Social Equity Program participants, Economic Empowerment licensees, and other disadvantaged businesses when searching for cannabis retailers in their area.

While the Cannabis Control Commission website enables consumers to search for retailers by proximity to zip code, and the results display the priority status of each retailer, there is still no way for consumers who want to shop their values and support LGBTQ, veteran-, minority-, women-owned businesses, nor is there a way to identify which retailers have labor peace agreements, are meeting their Positive Impact Plan and Diversity Plan goals, or have histories of violations.

Sen. Lewis’s S53 would charge the CCC with convening community stakeholders to create an online tool that will empower consumers to find the retailers that are best for them, increase transparency, and provide greater visibility for businesses from marginalized communities.

We urge you to favorably report S57 and S53 to help promote opportunities for equity cannabis businesses.

Creating Career Pathways for Justice-Involved Individuals

The mass incarceration that began with the War on Drugs, including cannabis prohibition, continues to destabilize Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other communities of color. Failed cannabis policies have deprived countless individuals of access to higher education, housing, employment, and the right to vote. Despite reforms, racial disparities in policing persist, with the ACLU of Massachusetts reporting that “In 2014, five years after decriminalization, the marijuana possession arrest rate for Black people was 3.3 times higher than for white people, demonstrating that racial disparity increased after decriminalization.”

While the Commonwealth has made strides in removing barriers to participation in the industry for people with cannabis convictions and gives application priority status to owners with prior convictions, we must do more to help people form communities divested by over-policing to find economic opportunity after they have completed their sentence. And we can set them up for success by providing the training opportunities, credentials, and job placement services needed starting during incarceration and through their transition to the community and employment.

We urge you to favorably report S52 sponsored by Sen. Patricia Jehlen and H123 sponsored by Rep. Chynah Tyler to create meaningful cannabis industry job and career opportunities and pathways for justice-involved individuals.

Conclusion

Thank you again for your persistent leadership in advancing equity in the Commonwealth’s cannabis industry and for being responsive to the concerns of those most impacted by these policies. We appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts and hope it is helpful.

On behalf of current and future entrepreneurs harmed by the War on Drugs, whom Question 4 was intended to lift up, we urge you to favorably report these bills and take the next step forward creating the equitable industry that Massachusetts residents voted for.

Please do not hesitate to contact EON’s policy team with any questions or if you would like to discuss these issues further; we can be reached at:

Thank you for considering these comments. EON stands ready to partner with you as the Committee reviews these and other ways to advance the Legislature’s, voters’, and our shared goal of a more equitable cannabis industry.

Respectfully yours,

Shanel Lindsay, Co-Founder
Armani White, Policy Co-Chair
Kevin Gilnack, Policy Co-Chair

cc: Senate President Karen Spilka
Speaker Ron Mariano
Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy
Sen. Liz Miranda
Sent. Pat Jehlen
Sen. Jason Lewis
Rep. Chynah Tyler
Rep. David Rogers
Rep. Michael Soter

Appendix A: Marijuana Regulation Fund Spending FY21-FY23

Summary of Marijuana Regulation Fund Distributions by Agency FY21-FY23

Marijuana Regulation Fund Appropriations By Agency FY21-FY23
AgencyAppropriationPercent
Bureau of Substance Addiction Services$281,876,409.3574.06%
Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development$36,500,000.009.59%
Dept. of Higher Ed$24,500,000.006.44%
Executive Office of Public Safety & Security$12,000,000.003.15%
Dept. of Public Health$8,023,048.002.11%
Executive Office of Education$8,000,455.662.10%
Executive Office of Labor & Workforce Development$7,689,800.002.02%
Commissioner of Probation$2,019,896.000.53%
Total Non-Regulatory Marijuana Regulation Fund Appropriations FY21-FY23$380,609,609.01

Detailed List of Marijuana Regulation Fund-Funded Accounts FY21-FY23

(*Cannabis regulatory agency accounts not included in totals above.)

FYLine ItemDescriptionAmount 
20231070-0840For the operation of the cannabis control commission*$15,836,897.00
20231070-0842 For the cannabis control commission’s oversight of the medical marijuana industry*$3,381,752.00
20232511-0103 For the costs associated with agricultural oversight of hemp and cannabis*$979,765.00
20234512-0200For the bureau of substance addiction services$158,718,451.58
20234590-1506For a competitive grant program to be administered by the department of public health to support the establishment of a comprehensive youth violence prevention program$4,023,048.00
20237002-0025For operational support grants to community action agencies$7,500,000.00
20237100-4002For Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services (SUCCESS) grants to community colleges to provide wraparound supports and services to improve outcomes for their most vulnerable populations$14,000,000.00
20238000-0655For a grant program to be administered by the executive office of public safety and security for emerging adults re-entry programs to reduce recidivism among individuals between 18 and 25 years of age, inclusive, who are returning to the community from state prisons and county correctional facilities$6,000,000.00
20221070-0840 For the operation of the cannabis control commission*$12,420,669.00
20221070-0842For the cannabis control commission’s oversight of the medical marijuana industry*$2,797,208.00
20222511-0103For the costs associated with agricultural oversight of hemp and cannabis*$959,016.00
20224512-0200For the bureau of substance addiction services, including a program to reimburse driver alcohol education programs$81,681,719.60
20224590-1506For a competitive grant program to be administered by the department of public health to support the establishment of a comprehensive youth violence prevention program$4,000,000.00
20227002-0025 For operational support grants to community action agencies$6,500,000.00
20227002-2021For a community empowerment and reinvestment grant program to be administered by the executive office of housing and economic development for the purpose of developing, strengthening and investing in communities$7,500,000.00
20227002-1091For the development and operation of career technical institutes in vocational technical schools in partnership with industry and community stakeholders$7,689,800.00
20227061-9611For grants or subsidies for after-school and out-of-school program$8,000,455.66
20227100-4002 For Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services (SUCCESS) grants to community colleges to provide wraparound supports and services to improve outcomes for their most vulnerable populations$10,500,000.00
20228000-0655  For a grant program to be administered by the executive office of public safety and security for emerging adults re-entry programs to reduce recidivism$4,000,000.00
20211070-0840For the operation of the cannabis control commission*$12,400,000.00
20211070-0842For the cannabis control commission’s oversight of the medical marijuana industry*$2,796,869.00
20212511-0103For the costs associated with agricultural oversight of hemp and cannabis*$1,091,942.00
20210339-1011 For a grant program to be administered by the office of the commissioner of probation for community based residential re-entry programs to reduce recidivism$2,019,896.00
20214512-0200For the bureau of substance addiction services, including a program to reimburse driver alcohol education programs for services provided for court-adjudicated, indigent clients$41,476,238.18
20217002-2021For a community empowerment and reinvestment grant program to be administered by the executive office of housing and economic development for the purpose of developing, strengthening and investing in communities$15,000,000.00
20218000-0655For a grant program to be administered by the executive office of public safety and security for emerging adults re-entry programs to reduce recidivism$2,000,000.00