The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission was the first state agency in the U.S. to launch a social equity program as part of its broader cannabis business licensing regime. While the platform is in place to address past harms done to neighborhoods and populations by cannabis prohibition, CCC data shows that only 13 percent of all cannabis business applicants fall under the “disadvantaged business enterprise” category—the very demographic that the commission is hoping to support as part of its small business development plans for Massachusetts’ nascent cannabis industry.
It’s a work in progress.
Continuing their Cannabis Advancement Series, the teams from Veterans Alternative Healing Inc., Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN) and Joint Venture & Co. will host an event from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. April 18 at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, Mass. The topic: “Cannabis Equity: Big Business and Small Business Working Together.”
Ann Brum, founder of Joint Venture & Co., says that the goal of this event is to bring Massachusetts cannabis professionals together to talk through the social equity angles on all sides of the business development table: big business, small business, private enterprise and public enterprise. The thought is that greater networking among private businesses will prompt greater participation—and success—in the CCC’s public arena.
“It's a combination of communications—being a resource—and talking to those at the local and state level to express some of the barriers and/or challenges that either economic empowerment applicants or social equity applicants are really looking to have direct access to,” Brum says. “Those are a few takeaways: clarity, communication and a sense of confidence in how to navigate the legislation and the application process in a way that's going to be better suited for the applicant.”
The three host groups point to CCC data, as of April 4, that show only 347 out of a total of 3,062 cannabis business applicants claim that “disadvantaged business enterprise” (DBE) status, which includes: women-owned businesses; veteran-owned businesses; minority-owned businesses; lesbian-, gay-, bisexual- or transgender-owned businesses; and “disability-owned businesses,” according to the CCC’s nomenclature.
But if the foundation of the state’s social equity program was a demand for a more inclusive cannabis industry, the numbers aren’t yet on equal footing with non-DBE applicants (2,715, as of April 4, 87 percent of all business applicants).
As part of its social equity program, the CCC unveiled an Economic Empowerment policy, which is “aimed at redressing harms to populations that have been arrested and incarcerated for previous drug laws,” according to the agency.
The biggest barrier to entry for those prospective Economic Empowerment and DBE applicants is funding and simple access to capital, according to a recent WBUR report on the CCC’s own survey of those applicants. As of December 2018, 44 percent of those businesses who’d applied for Economic Empowerment status had not gone on to apply for a business license, citing “difficulty raising money for their business.”
"It’s going to take some time," Cannabis Control Commission Chariman Steve Hoffman said at a public meeting, as WBUR reported. "We will monitor how this process works. We will tweak whatever we need to tweak to make it work. If we need to go back to the legislature and ask for changes in the legislation, we will do so."
Hoffman, as it happens, will be one of the keynote speakers at the Cannabis Advancement Series event in Holyoke on April 18. He’ll be joined by BASK CEO Chapman Dickerson and MRCC Community Director Joe Gilmore, as well.
The first of two panels will get into inclusion and diversity among Massachusetts cannabis entrepreneurship and employment. The panel will discuss how both public and private efforts may work together to produce helpful results. Speakers on that panel include: Hoffman, Stephen Mandile, Karima Rizk, Shamika Rucker and Horace Small.
Following that, the event’s second panel discussion will feature “policy, business, and education models in western Massachusetts for inclusion and diversity, with speakers Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, Mark Zatryka from INSA, and Jeff Hayden from Holyoke Community College.” Holyoke is located in western Massachusetts, between Easthampton and Springfield (where INSA’s two dispensaries are located).
Further, the organizations will release data compiled through an ongoing Veterans Health and Medical Cannabis Research Study.
“[The series] also raises awareness, big time, about the state of the social equity program in Massachusetts, and that it's the first in the country to really put something like this together,” Brum says. “We really would like to position it as a partnership for the community, the attendees, the panel speakers and our projects. We really want everyone to look at it as: How can we best partner up to make things happen right now?”
Business owners can learn more at the Holyoke event Thursday evening. Registration details for this free event are available at cannacenterofexcellence.org/veteran.