Massachusetts is among a handful of states to legalize recreational marijuana on Nov. 8 and questions of equal licensing opportunities loom as this new industry emerges.
Among those working to ensure a level playing field is Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley who spoke with WGBH’s Morning Edition host Bob Seay about the recommendations she filed to Boston City Council on ways to secure equal opportunities in marijuana licensing.
Pressley said minority representation in the marijuana industry is important to advocates because it’s a way to make up for the after-effects of the War on Drugs in communities of color and low-income citizens. She also said advocates for industry equality realize the astounding low percentage of minority ownership in the pot industry nationwide, compared to their white counterparts.
“This stands to be a multibillion-dollar industry and in order for us to ensure a greater opportunity in equity both in ownership and in workforce, we have to be intentional and prescriptive about that," Pressley said.
What are minorities up against in the marijuana industry?
Cost is a major factor. Pressley said the application process could cost up to $45,000 in fees in addition to requiring one to attest to liquid assets of $500,000. A criminal record could also prohibit one from gaining a foothold in the industry—a vice communities of color tend to experience at disproportionate rates.
“I want us to be intentional with this and to learn both from missed opportunities with medicinal marijuana, and we have the opportunity to be a national model when it comes to equity,” she said. Pressley credits advocates for policies and procedures embedded into the ballot measure that eliminates such barriers.
Following the ballot measure vote and approval, Pressley convened a working session on Dec. 6 with national experts from Colorado and New York before filing her recommendations to City Council.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg is expected to name three individuals to a newly formed Cannabis Control Commission, and Pressley hopes at least one member will be of color.
Pressley also recommended collecting and reporting data to track and evaluate progress of recreational pot as the state adjusts to the new industry. The councilwoman added that incentivizing diversity should be a part of the application process as well.
To listen to the full interview with WBGH’s Bob Seay and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, click the audio file above.