Extending the Cannabis Equity Period

Great news: the Cambridge City Council has voted to extend the cannabis equity priority period for another year. Mayor Siddiqui and I originally advanced this policy last term in an effort to build equity in the city’s emerging cannabis industry. The law we passed in 2019 allows only state-certified Economic Empowerment (EE) applicants to open cannabis retail stores in Cambridge. That was set to expire on September 23rd. Last week we held a hearing on extending it- and Monday night we passed the extension.

Economic Empowerment applicants must meet the state’s criteria which include living in areas of disproportionate impact and majority Black or Brown ownership. The state also has a separate Social Equity program with different criteria, and the new preference period now allows them to open retail cannabis stores in Cambridge as well. We heard from the city that 7 equity (EE) applicants have received their business permit and will soon open stores. Most of these businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs who grew up in Cambridge and Boston. This is evidence that our policy has been effective, but it needs more time to bear fruit.

Opening a cannabis retail store is an incredibly complicated process involving multiple levels of government, and equity applicants have often had to navigate it without access to legal counsel. The pandemic has also caused significant delays for applicants at every step of the way. Our policy has also survived a legal challenge from the white owner of Revolutionary Clinics, who argued in court that the policy is racially discriminatory against white applicants. He has since apologized but his actions created immense frustration in the community.

So we’re giving our equity applicants another year of exclusivity. The hope is that soon there will be Black-owned cannabis retail stores all over the city. We are working hard to make sure that people from communities that have faced disproportionate impact have a chance to benefit from this billion-dollar industry. One applicant is set to open on First Street in East Cambridge, in the shadows of the Sullivan Courthouse where he was once incarcerated for a low-level drug offense. Our equity period is an important piece of efforts to provide restitution for the war on drugs, and I’m glad the council has voted to extend it for at least another year.