Boston City Councilors Look For Ways To Keep Minorities From Being Shut Out Of Legal Marijuana Business

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As Massachusetts gets set for a likely multi-billion dollar marijuana industry, some Boston City Council members are trying to make sure communities that have been harmed by marijuana prohibition are not frozen out of the marketplace.

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley called a special meeting Tuesday to discuss challenges facing entrepreneurs from the minority community who want to take part in the legalized marijuana business.

Pressley says she's concerned communities that bore the brunt of the war on drugs for many years could get shut out of the industry.

"You know, a rising tide does not lift all boats unless you are intentional about it doing exactly that," Pressley said. "We have an opportunity to be deliberative, pro-active and intentional in ensuring that we don't see those disparities given the growing wealth gap and income inequality."

The councilors heard from 15 panelists, including Wanda James, the CEO of a cannabis shop in Colorado. James said that out of 400 licensed shops in her state, hers is just one of three that have African-American ownership.

"So when you start talking about business and we start looking at this as a business, and especially when we look at job creation, business creation, this is an industry that we all must be focused on," James said. "Cutting an entire group out of the process is un-American."

Other experts spoke to the importance of keeping license fees low, so as not to preclude smaller entrepreneurs from getting into the game.

Jaime Lewis is the COO of Mayflower Medicinals here in Boston and has a marijuana businesses in Colorado.

"The licensing fees were kept low enough to allow me to get $5,000 together to apply for a license [in Colorado]," Lewis said. "That was the key piece that resonates most, because I didn't have an endless amount of capital. I mean, my daddy is a farmer so there was no money rolling in for me. It was the lower level of licensing fees that allowed me access to it."

As the law is currently written, an initial application here in Massachusetts will cost $3,000, but a license for a retail marijuana store will cost $15,000.

Aside from ownership issues, the city councilors were urged to fight legal barriers that could block some people from finding work at a marijuana business. Wanda James said she was forced to fire her brother because he was convicted of a non-violent drug crime.

"People who are transitioning out of prison systems or out of the legal system, it would be amazing to be able to employ those people and be able to show them what it is we do and how we do it and doing it the right way," James said. "So any assistance at all in bringing job applications to that particular segment of the population is beyond important."

The City Council plans to compile a full list of recommendations to be presented to state officials as they set out to craft legalized marijuana regulations.

This segment aired on December 6, 2016.


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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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