Boston officials will make significant changes this week in the way the city licenses marijuana companies, and discuss a city council member Kim Janey's plan to avenge one-sided control over the trial from the mayor's office and give strong preference to companies whose owners were hit by the war on drugs.
Janey's proposed regulation, which was made public on Monday prior to the municipal council meeting, would impose a two-year ban on larger marijuana companies, supported by outside money.
Instead, any company requesting permission to open a marijuana store during that window would have to prove that the majority owners belong to three of the six groups: those who have spent five of the past ten years in an area of Massachusetts lived with disproportionately high numbers of arrests for drug offenses; people who have lived in Boston in the past five years; those arrested in the past for marijuana-related offenses or whose husbands or parents were arrested for marijuana-related crimes; people of black, Afro-American, Latino or Latino origin; and people whose annual family income is below 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
The idea, said Janey, is to recognize the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana prohibition against of people of color in the past and to create a local pot industry that gives back wealth to the city's disenfranchised communities.
"If we are not deliberate, we will continue to enforce the status quo, which orders large companies from outside the state to come in and take out all licenses," said Janey in an interview. "Local residents deserve a chance – there is nothing right now in Boston."
While Boston does not impose a hard limit on how many marijuana stores or growing facilities can be opened within its limits, critics say that a city administration that requires a half-mile buffer between all licensed pot operations has given a huge advantage to those who can quickly lock in homes prime areas, giving them small geographic monopolies.
According to Janey's plan, any company that applied to the city before 1 February, including several local medical dispensaries that fish for recreational licenses, can continue without meeting the new criteria. After two years, so-called share applicants would receive twice as many licenses as other companies.
The office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh indicated that it was open to the idea of Janey. "Ensuring justice across our city is one of the top priorities of this government as the cannabis industry expands in Boston," Walsh spokeswoman Samantha Ormsby said in a statement.
After months of criticism that his office had set up a complex and opaque process, Walsh stated in December that he wanted to improve the change process for local marijuana companies and set up a fund to help them get off the ground.
Janey's proposal would direct marijuana fees and taxes to a program that could help entrepreneurs write business plans, recruit investors, and navigate through the application process. (Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, officials have stated that existing federally funded programs for small businesses in the city can not help businesses that deal directly with cannabis.)
But Walsh has warned that the implementation of a local preferred program might delay the licensing process. David Torrisi, executive director of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, a sector association, expressed this concern.
"This regulation seems to create a different level of bureaucracy that is probably not necessary," he said. "It just means that the legitimate market can not be established more quickly."
Janey did not agree, and said that speed and honesty can coexist.
"I do not think that means that everything comes to a standstill," Janey said. "We can be thoughtful and deliberate about equity and continue to advance faster than we have been before."
Proponents noted that the city's existing process is progressing very quickly – no recreation facilities have been set up so far – and that setting up a clearer and more objective system would drive up the pace of approvals and rapid investments in equity companies.
"One of the main reasons that it is slow is because Boston has not decided who to license," said lawyer and businesswoman Shanel Lindsay. "Priority granting would create a magnet for these companies to raise capital."
Proponents, including officials of state marijuana, said Janey's proposal would drive the struggling government efforts to license smaller companies with different owners. So far, no certified companies in minority interests have won state marijuana licenses, despite a share mandate in the state's marijuana law.
"The proposed regulation of Councilor Janey is, for me, the new national model," said Shaleen's title of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. "It deliberately and deliberately complements the state's efforts to create the fair industry demanded by Massachusetts law."
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