As several states see record-setting cannabis sales despite a global economic downturn, advocates and business owners are concerned that the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is delaying the creation of an equitable cannabis industry.
While smaller equity applicants from marginalized communities are denied access to the market, police departments and major corporations are cashing in on ancillary cannabis contracts worth multiple millions of dollars.
In Massachusetts, only three out of 70 equity, economic empowered and disadvantaged business enterprises awarded cannabis licenses have been able to open as of July. Shaleen Title, one of the state’s four Cannabis Control Commissioners with a record of fighting for inclusivity, recently told Boston Public Radio she was “embarrassed” by the state’s equity efforts. In the spring, Massachusetts was one of the only states in the country not to declare recreational cannabis essential amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Massachusetts’ statewide budget for social equity training and technical assistance is $300,000. But that figure pales in comparison to the administrative fees and private security contracts paid to police and municipalities by cannabis companies. Since 2016, cannabis company New England Treatment Access (NETA) has paid police $1.1 million in extra salary in the city of Northampton and $1.58 million in overtime officer pay in the city of Brookline.
These law enforcement contracts are in addition to the $2.6 million “impact fee” NETA has paid to the city of Northampton since opening, a 3% tax created to offset the additional liabilities that come with dispensaries, such as increased foot traffic and security needs. In Brookline, public budget documents show $435,000 of NETA’s impact fee will go to the town’s police department.