Massachusetts Lawmakers Pass Compromise Bill on Cannabis Industry Reform

The Massachusetts bill will direct more revenue to the Social Equity Fund, which aims to boost minority participation in the state’s cannabis industry.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts passed a bill late Sunday night that will bring a host of different reforms to the state’s recreational cannabis industry.

The legislation “aims to promote greater diversity in the legal marijuana industry, ratchet up oversight on the host community agreements that marijuana businesses are required to enter into with municipalities, and to lay the groundwork for cities and towns to green light on-site cannabis consumption establishments within their borders,” NBC Boston reported.

The compromise bill “emerged just before midnight Sunday after nearly a month of negotiations and quickly passed through both the House and Senate,” according to the station.

It will now head to the desk of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who expressed hope this month that lawmakers would get something passed.

Democratic state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, who co-sponsored the measure, called it a “great bill.”

“It will rebalance the playing field, where so far wealthy corporations have been able to buy their way through the licensing process and too many local, small business owners and Black and brown entrepreneurs have been locked out,” Chang-Díaz said in a statement, as quoted by The Boston Globe.

The bill will usher in changes to the state’s nearly six-year-old legal weed industry. According to NBC Boston, it will “direct 15 percent of the money in the Marijuana Regulation Fund, which is where revenue brought in by the state’s marijuana excise tax, application and licensing fees, and industry penalties is deposited, into a new Social Equity Trust Fund,” while also giving “the Cannabis Control Commission the authority to review and approve host community agreements before a business obtains its final license, and clarifies that a community impact fee in an HCA cannot exceed 3 percent of gross sales and must be ‘reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment.’”

Voters in Massachusetts approved a ballot initiative in 2016 that legalized recreational pot use for adults. Lawmakers in the state subsequently rewrote the law the following year, and it has been the subject of legislative dispute ever since.

As The Boston Globe reported, some legislators have “spent years lobbying for a rewrite, arguing a few straightforward fixes would address glaring problems,” most notably an “onerous municipal approval process that has been implicated in two federal corruption investigations, and a lack of institutional financing that has allowed larger corporations backed by wealthy private investors to dominate at the expense of smaller, locally owned businesses with more diverse ownership.”

Proponents celebrated the bill’s passage on Sunday night.

“Legislators tonight made history with this vital — and overdue — grant and loan fund,” said Shanel Lindsay, a cannabis attorney and the cofounder of advocacy group Equitable Opportunities Now, as quoted by The Boston Globe. “This bill is an important step forward in undoing the harms of prohibition and over-policing and will provide an important path for families of color to create jobs in their community and generate generational wealth.”

Despite the problems with the law, the cannabis industry is booming in Massachusetts.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts officials reported that the state collected more in taxes from pot sales than it did with alcohol sales, a first since the cannabis industry went live in the state.

The growth of the legal weed market has been accompanied by some concerns. Late last year, Baker introduced legislation aimed at curtailing stoned driving.

“This bill will provide law enforcement officers with more rigorous drug detection training and will strengthen the legal process by authorizing the courts to acknowledge that the active ingredient in marijuana can and does impair motorists. The bill draws on thoughtful recommendations from a broad cross-section of stakeholders, and we look forward to working with our legislative colleagues to pass this bill and make our roads safer,” Baker said at the time.

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