Difficulty finding funding is holding back the very people the state is required to help enter the new legal cannabis industry: members of communities disproportionately criminalized for marijuana.
That's according to a survey of these so-called "economic empowerment applicants" conducted by the Cannabis Control Commission.
According to the survey, 44 percent said they didn't apply for a license because of difficulty raising money for their businesses. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they're still developing a business plan. And one-third said they haven't been able to get approval from their city or town.
One big caveat, however, is that the commission's survey was small — with slightly more than 60 responses. The survey was sent out Friday to more than 300 people who applied for the "economic empowerment" designation.
Commission Chairman Steve Hoffman said regulators are committed to helping these applicants, but it's "premature" to draw conclusions about how the new recreational cannabis industry will eventually look. After all, only a dozen provisional licenses have been issued so far.
"It’s going to take some time," Hoffman said at the commission's public meeting Thursday. "We will monitor how this process works. We will tweak whatever we need to tweak to make it work. If we need to go back to the Legislature and ask for changes in the legislation, we will do so."
The economic empowerment priority fast-tracks the state's licensing review process for those who qualify. It's part of the commission's broader efforts to ensure diversity in the new cannabis market. And it's part of the state's marijuana law.
But so far only three economic empowerment applications have made it to the state for review. That's compared to more than 50 medical marijuana dispensary applications.
Many economic empowerment applicants say the priority doesn't help them actually get through the licensing process.
Commissioner Shaleen Title said it's important for regulators to identify and address these challenges now.
"The fact that the benefit here is priority means that the more time goes on the and the more licenses we grant, the less meaningful that benefit becomes," Title said.
The commission plans to gather more data on economic empowerment applicants through its survey and through focus groups.
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