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article imageBreaking the cannabis color barrier in Massachusetts

By Karen Graham     Jan 8, 2019 in Business
Boston - The regulated cannabis industry is transforming an underground economy into a dynamic engine of commercial activity in Massachusetts. One thing is missing in this picture, though: there are very few minority-owned businesses.
Like California, Massachusetts is working to redress the failed efforts of the war on drugs and the devastation cannabis criminalization had on minority and underserved communities. In California, this was accomplished when in September, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Cannabis Equity Act.
Massachusetts has a public policy goal called Economic Empowerment. This goal was written into the cannabis legalization law, specifically to address the disproportionate number of small and minority-owned businesses facing barriers in the legalized cannabis industry.
The Cannabis Control Commission and local cities and towns are trying to implement the economic empowerment goals. However, only three percent of all recreational license applicants qualify as minority-owned businesses. Of the applicants given priority status as economic empowerment applicants, most of them are facing economic constraints.
Anne Genovy smokes marijuana in Vancouver  Canada  as nearly a century of marijuana prohibition came...
Anne Genovy smokes marijuana in Vancouver, Canada, as nearly a century of marijuana prohibition came to an end
Don MacKinnon, AFP
Such was the case with Carolina Nunez, according to Mass Live. She lives in Dorchester and has been to cooking school, and works in human services to supplement her income from cooking. She was given priority status by the Cannabis Control Commission, but she is unable to get her marijuana business started.
Nunez found a space in Boston that would normally rent for $1,900 a month, but when she said she was looking to start a marijuana business, the rent jumped to $16,000 a month. In other cities and towns, she ran into municipal bans on marijuana businesses. Now, she says that when looking back, the $200,000 she budgeted for start-up costs was "short-sighted."
The case for partnerships
Michael Dundas is president and CEO of Sira Naturals, Inc., which operates three medical cannabis dispensaries in Massachusetts and was the first cannabis company in the country to start a cannabis business accelerator program aimed at economic empowerment startups, the Sira Accelerator.
In an editorial piece, he wrote in the Boston Globe, Dundas wrote that startups, like his Sira Accelerator, are needed to offer programs to cannabis entrepreneurs, giving them an immediate step toward product development, while slicing through barriers to entry and accelerating them to profitability.
His whole point is actually simple: by helping small and minority businesses to get started, legislators and business leaders would be helping the whole community economically, while pursuing an elusive public policy objective.
Another company, TILT Holdings Inc., announced on Tuesday its official launch of its Cannabis Inclusion Program empowering and supporting license holders in legalized cannabis markets. This program is designed to help support those individuals that have been disproportionately punished by cannabis laws in the past, including the Controlled Substances Act.
Discount Medical Marijuana cannabis shop at 970 Lincoln Street  Denver  Colorado.
Discount Medical Marijuana cannabis shop at 970 Lincoln Street, Denver, Colorado.
O'Dea (CC BY-SA 3.0)
According to the company's website, TILT Holdings Inc. is a vertically-integrated infrastructure and technology cannabis company and is publicly traded on the CSE under the ticker symbol "TILT". The company's vision is to provide value to all cannabis retailers through software, infrastructure, access to capital, and more.
“We know it can be challenging to secure the capital, infrastructure, product, technology and talent to effectively scale in the cannabis industry,” said Alex Coleman, Chief Executive Officer of TILT Holdings. “Our goal is to remove those barriers to entry, and help these individuals navigate the complex cannabis regulations by providing them the support to successfully get up and running in half the time at a fraction of the cost.”
Until all states embrace economic empowerment goals like California and Massachusetts have done, minority and underserved communities will continue to be left on the outside, looking in on what could be an economic opportunity.
More about Massachusetts, cannabis equity, breaking the color barrier, Cannabis Control Commission, TILT Holdings Inc
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