Massachusetts cannabis commission announces applicant forum, as protesters disrupt second straight meeting

Frustrations over the lack of progress promoting diversity in the industry have spilled into public view.

Boston, MA -  8/14/19   A man testifies before the Cannabis Control Commission (cq).  The commissioners are, from left, Shaleen Title (cq), Britte McBride (cq) chairman Steven Hoffman (cq), and Kay Doyle (cq).
Photo by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Topic:  15anesthesia
Reporter:  Naomi Martin
A man testifies before the Cannabis Control Commission last August in Boston. –Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe

After its second straight meeting was cut short by protests Thursday, the Cannabis Control Commission announced a forum later this month to hear more from frustrated marijuana business applicants.

“Feedback from applicants who feel they don’t have enough information about the status of their applications is both heard and appreciated by Commissioners and staff,” the CCC said in a statement.

The Massachusetts regulatory agency says the forum will be held Jan. 23 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m in Worcester, where its headquarters are located, “to understand in more specific detail the challenges that cannabis business applicants encounter during the licensing process.” Officials invited applicants to attend and share their experiences and concerns.

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Chairman Steve Hoffman first mentioned his intention to hold the forum after the agency’s meeting last month was disrupted, before more details were released this week (the CCC had planned to share them as part of its meeting Thursday, but never got the chance).

The forum comes amid simmering frustrations among activists and fledgling entrepreneurs — particularly those from communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, whom the 2016 marijuana legalization measure was intended to help — recently came to a boil.

The CCC’s meeting on Dec. 19 was abruptly adjourned after Leah Cooke Daniels, a black, female veteran in the audience, stood up and read aloud from a letter, complaining that her application to open a recreational pot shop in Boston had been unduly delayed.

The commission reconvened Thursday with one item on the agenda: approving the provisional licenses that they weren’t able to issue during the December meeting.

“I respectfully request from the public that are attending this meeting that we are able do own business,” Hoffman said.

They were able to do so, approving all 31 licenses in one motion. But the meeting was adjourned after less than five minutes, when a group of about 20 people began speaking out, as The Boston Globe reported.

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“No approvals until economic empowerment approvals,” they chanted, referring to the priority review status that the CCC offered to underrepresented groups in the marijuana industry.

The commission has offered both expedited reviewal and additional assistance through its social equity program to prospective businesses run by women, people of color, and veterans, as well as people who either themselves have past drug arrests or reside in or were hired from areas with high marijuana arrest rates.

However, for a number of different reasons (some currently out of the CCC’s control), progress has been slow. Since the first pot shops in Massachusetts opened in November 2018, the industry has been dominated by larger companies, the vast majority of which are owned by white men. In August, the Globe reported that just two of the state’s 184 marijuana business licenses were owned by people in the CCC’s social equity program. And according to data released last month, 22 of the 667 applications that were completely submitted to the CCC came from economic-empowerment applicants.

“We’re not where we need to be,” Hoffman recently told Boston.com, adding that the commission was trying to be “very open minded about what else we can do as we see how this industry evolves.”

In its statement Thursday, the CCC said it “remains committed to ensuring meaningful participation in the legal industry by women-, minority-, and veteran-owned businesses, as well as individuals who have been harmed by previous marijuana prohibition.” It added that additional steps were “ongoing” to improve the transparency and guidance in the application process.

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