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State regulators want cities and towns in Massachusetts to keep diversity in mind as residents seek to set up recreational marijuana businesses.
The Cannabis Control Commission issued guidance Wednesday for municipalities to help ensure equity in the state's new marijuana industry. Some recommendations encourage cities and towns to prioritize people from marginalized groups. Other recommendations focus on local taxes and zoning.
The commission is required by law to make sure communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition — namely people of color — are able to participate in the emerging legal market, which could become a billion-dollar industry.
But so far, many of the people the state is tasked with helping are struggling to get through the licensing process. Much of that struggle — whether it's with fees, real estate or the zoning process — comes at the local level.
The commission's recommendations try to address many of these issues. One recommendation calls for cities and towns to prioritize so-called "economic empowerment" applicants in the local review process — just as it's done at the state level. This would fast-track the review process for people already designated by the state as promoting economic empowerment in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition.
"If we want an applicant to have priority to be able to open earlier, then they should get priority at both levels," Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title said.
The commission also encourages cities and towns to consider using part of any revenue from local taxes for equity efforts, such as workforce training, technical assistance or mentoring.
Another recommendation encourages municipalities to consider lowering "community impact" fees for economic empowerment applicants. These fees have been a concern for economic empowerment applicants because some local agreements have required companies to shell out thousands of dollars in annual fees.
Regulators also caution against overly restrictive zoning rules for marijuana businesses, as real estate can be a major hurdle for small businesses and people from marginalized communities. The commission suggests municipalities treat marijuana businesses the same as other businesses in the zoning process.
In all, the recommendations are meant to mirror the state's equity efforts. Title said they're more of a guide for cities and towns to help them consider issues in the local review process. For example, whether or not it's necessary to limit the number of marijuana businesses in their communities. Title said the commission issued the recommendations after requests from local officials and the state's cannabis advisory board for guidance on how to implement equitable policies.
For more updates on the industry, join WBUR's Facebook group, Green Rush: Cannabis in Massachusetts.
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