Understanding Black History Month and the Massachusetts Cannabis Industry
The annual observance of Black History Month is an important one, allowing people to honor and celebrate the triumphs and struggles Black people have faced and continue to face throughout history. When it comes to the cannabis industry, it’s important to highlight the current disadvantages Black people face and consider how we can make cannabis more equitable for all.
A 2017 survey found that about 80% of cannabis owners and founders are white. The remaining 20% is made up primarily of the “other” category, followed by 5.7% Hispanic or Latino and just 4.3% Black. As you can see, the cannabis industry remains glaringly white-owned and operated.
Additionally, the ACLU has reported that Black people and white people tend to use cannabis at about the same rate. Rather than Black and white people being convicted of cannabis-related charges at the same rate, there are huge disparities in the data. Black people are about four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. In Massachusetts, the rate is of arrest is slightly higher than the national average.
Worcester County, home to our Fitchburg dispensary, sees about 3.3 times the rate of cannabis arrests for Black people than white. Head over to Middlesex county and the rate skyrockets to 6.5 times more likely for Black people to be arrested over white people.
Between the disparities and arrest rates and the lack of Black-owned cannabis ownership in the country, we need to do better. Let’s talk about how Massachusetts is trying to repair the harm caused by the War on Drugs.
Massachusetts cannabis social equity
Massachusetts joined the ranks of states with legal weed four years after Colorado and Washington made history. And even though our state came to legalize weed after several others, Massachusetts was the first to set up a social equity program. Since then, other states have adopted social equity provisions into their programs.
It’s a free, statewide assistance and training program meant to help people gain the necessary tools to launch a cannabis business. Although it doesn’t guarantee participants will receive a cannabis license, it will help them develop the skills needed to apply for one. Program members also receive expedited license application reviews.
To participate in the program, you must fit at least one of the criteria laid out by the Cannabis Control Commission.
- “Income that does not exceed 400% of Area Median Income and Residency in an Area of Disproportionate Impact, as defined by the Commission, for at least five of the past ten years;
- Residency in Massachusetts for at least the past 12 months and a conviction or continuance without a finding for an offense under M.G.L. c. 94C or an equivalent conviction in Other Jurisdictions;
- Residency in Massachusetts for at least the past 12 months and proof that the SEP applicant was either married to or the child of an individual convicted or continuance without a finding for a M.G.L. c. 94C offense or an equivalent conviction in Other Jurisdictions;
- Any individual listed as an owner on the original certification of an Economic Empowerment Priority Applicant who satisfies one or more the following criteria:
- Lived for five of the preceding ten years in an Area of Disproportionate Impact, as determined by the Commission;
- Experience in one or more previous positions where the primary population served were disproportionately impacted, or where primary responsibilities included economic education, resource provision or empowerment to disproportionately impacted individuals or communities;
- Black, African American, Hispanic or Latino descent; or
- Other significant articulable demonstration of past experience in or business practices that promote economic empowerment in Areas of Disproportionate Impact.”
The program is also helping more Black cannabis businesses get started by only giving delivery licenses to social equity applicants for the first three years. Many people like the idea of getting into the cannabis industry with delivery, as it requires a lower startup cost, allowing the business to become profitable before scaling to other models.
The social equity program is not perfect, and many advocates have spoken against it, particularly because the data does not reflect the messaging. After all, a report last year found that only 27 of the 122 applicants given priority ended up applying for licenses. Additionally, only eight of the 22 received one. Those numbers do not look great.
Black-owned businesses in Fitchburg
While there is still a lot of work to do to create a more equitable cannabis industry and the world, a good way to celebrate Black History Month is to support Black-owned businesses. Of course, support these businesses year-round, but if you’re wondering where to go this month, seek out Black-owned businesses like the ones we’ve rounded up:
Kingston Island Cuisine
Hungry? Kingston Island Cuisine can take care of that for you. Hot, fresh, and made from scratch daily, this is the place to get your Jamaican food fix. From jerk chicken and pepper steak to sweet plantains and boiled dumplings, they’ve got you covered for vibrant, enticing flavors. Plus, they have plenty of veggie options.
Treasures of Fitchburg
Identified as Black-owned on Yelp, Treasures of Fitchburg is a thrift store located on Main Street. Their hours are fairly limited, so be sure to check in before you visit.
Comeketo Brazilian Steakhouse
Though located in Leominster, Comeketo Brazilian Steakhouse is well worth the trip. Enjoy Brazilian cuisine brought out in an assortment of dishes for the table, along with a gourmet salad bar.
Need to stock up on weed? We’ve got you covered at Fitchburg’s favorite pot shop.
We are a recreational dispensary located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, serving all guests 21 or over with legal identification. We carry a wide selection of brands with a variety of categories like cannabis flower, concentrates, pre-rolled joints, vaporizer cartridges, edibles, infused drinks, tinctures, topicals, and accessories. Give us a follow on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
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