CANNABIS REGULATORS SEEK VENDORS TO ADVANCE SOCIAL EQUITY PROGRAM
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON, JUNE 26, 2018.....As it works to build its program meant to ensure the legal marijuana industry is accessible to communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, the Cannabis Control Commission agreed Tuesday to solicit vendors who can provide training, technical assistance and mentoring.
The CCC plans to issue a request for qualifications as soon as Wednesday in hopes of having by mid-August "a repository of vendors that we can work with" as part of its social equity program, Executive Director Shawn Collins said Tuesday.
Shekia Scott, the CCC's community outreach director, presented an outline of the program on Tuesday, describing it as "a means to address and further prevent the inequitable status quo by first recognizing and then accommodating those who experienced disparities in treatment."
The rewritten marijuana law the Legislature passed a year ago mandates that the CCC adopt "procedures and policies to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities."
The CCC, working with a criminal justice professor from Shenandoah University, identified 29 communities or neighborhoods in Massachusetts deemed to be areas of disproportionate impact. Citing data from the American Civil Liberties Union, Scott said the Massachusetts population is 22 percent black and Latino, though black and Latino people account for 57 percent of the state's prisoners and 75 percent of the people serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.
"The social equity program is designed to create sustainable pathways into the adult-use cannabis industry for both individuals and businesses regardless of their desired specialty," Scott said. "This program will allow applicants to reimagine what they can contribute while also providing avenues to build and support the growth of a robust adult-use industry."
The 29 municipalities identified as being disproportionately impacted are Abington, Amherst, parts of Boston, Braintree, Brockton, Chelsea, Fall River, Fitchburg, Greenfield, Haverhill, Holyoke, parts of Lowell, Lynn, Mansfield, Monson, New Bedford, North Adams, Pittsfield, Quincy, Randolph, Revere, Southbridge, Spencer, parts of Springfield, Taunton, Walpole, Wareham, West Springfield and parts of Worcester.
The program will include four tracks: the entrepreneur track will help those seeking licensure or ownership in the cannabis industry navigate the application process and will provide training on industry challenges. The core track will offer management and executive workforce development training for people interested in managerial or executive careers in the marijuana industry. The re-entry and entry-level track is geared specifically towards providing skills training for people recently released from prison and those with no prior experience in the cannabis world. The ancillary track is designed to help connect people with trade and professional skills (think carpenters, lawyers, drivers and accountants) with marijuana businesses.
Scott said the benefits of participation in the program will include ongoing technical assistance, fee waivers and initial exclusive access to certain types of licenses. The CCC agreed in February to give small businesses, businesses in the CCC's social equity program, craft cooperatives and certain farmers a jump start on seeking delivery and social consumption licenses if or when the CCC authorizes those license types.
To be eligible for the program, an applicant or licensee must meet one of the following criteria: 1) have resided in an area identified as the CCC as being disproportionately impacted for at least five of the last 10 years and have an income that does not exceed 400 percent of the federal poverty level; 2) have a past drug conviction and have lived in Massachusetts for at least the last 12 months; or 3) be married to or be the child of a person with a drug conviction and have lived in Massachusetts for at least the last 12 months.
The CCC unanimously approved an RFQ on Tuesday, which Scott said is focused on finding "vendors to develop face-to-face and on-demand curriculum ... professional training, technical services and mentoring."
Collins said he hopes the RFQ will "identify any number of vendors that will participate in this program" and will give the commission "a list of qualified vendors on hand" from which it can select a vendor or vendors for "mini procurements." He said he expects applications for the social equity program will be available by August.
Scott said her next step is "to begin dedicated outreach and that will begin in the 29 communities that were identified as disproportionately impacted areas." She described "our own type of roadshow around the state" and said the CCC will be making sure that anyone who applied for priority application review as part of the economic empowerment program is looped in on the social equity program.
The CCC's current budget includes $300,000 for the social equity program and outreach, but Scott said funding for the program in future years will depend on how the Legislature appropriates money to the CCC and whether any of the revenue from marijuana sales is put towards the program, as would be allowed under state law.
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