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Minorities struggle for headway in the legal weed business

In 2016, Massachusetts voters approved an initiative that required the state to create policies that would bring those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs into the new legal cannabis industry. Today, minority-owned businesses make up only a small fraction of the hundreds of marijuana dispensaries in the state. Kira Kay reports.

AIRED: July 31, 2021 | 0:11:22
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>> Sreenivasan: WHEN THE STATE

OF MASSACHUSETTS LEGALIZED

MARIJUANA, IT ALSO ESTABLISHED A

SOCIAL EQUITY PROGRAM, DESIGNED

TO GIVE INDIVIDUALS MOST

IMPACTED BY THE WAR ON DRUGS AN

OPPORTUNITY FOR TRAINING AND

DEVELOPMENT IN THE CANNABIS

INDUSTRY, AS WELL AS EXPEDITED

LICENSES.

SEVERAL YEARS INTO THE EFFORT,

THE MASSACHUSETTS MARIJUANA

INDUSTRY IS BOOMING, BUT FEW

LICENSES ARE HELD BY MINORITIES.

NOW, THE STATE HAS CREATED NEW

LICENSES FOR DELIVERY BUSINESSES

TO LOWER SOME BARRIERS FOR

EQUITY APPLICANTS.

NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL

CORRESPONDENT KIRA KAY HAS MORE.

THIS SEGMENT IS PART OF

OUR ONGOING SERIES, "CHASING

THE DREAM: POVERTY AND

OPPORTUNITY IN AMERICA."

>> Reporter: IT'S JUNETEENTH IN

THE JAMAICA PLAIN NEIGHBORHOOD

OF BOSTON.

THE NEW FEDERAL HOLIDAY MEANS A

LONG WEEKEND FOR LOCAL

RESIDENTS, WHO HAVE COME TO THE

SEED DISPENSARY TO PICK UP THEIR

FAVORITE CANNABIS PRODUCTS.

BUT SEED ISN'T JUST A

DISPENSARY, IT'S ALSO A MUSEUM.

CURATOR NIAMBE McINTOSH IS THE

DAUGHTER OF REGGAE LEGEND AND

CANNABIS ACTIVIST, PETER TOSH.

>> MY FATHER, JUST LIKE MANY

OTHER MUSICIANS-- FROM COOLIO,

SNOOP, TO MICK JAGGER, JAMES

BROWN-- HAVE ALL BEEN ARRESTED

FOR CANNABIS POSSESSION.

>> Reporter: THE MUSEUM CHARTS

AMERICA'S SO-CALLED WAR ON DRUGS

THAT EVEN IN THE LAST DECADE SAW

NEARLY FOUR TIMES AS MANY BLACK

PEOPLE ARRESTED FOR CANNABIS

POSSESSION.

>> OUR COUNTRY SPENDS HUNDREDS

OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS

PERFORMING RAIDS TO THIS DAY.

>> Reporter: THIS HISTORY IS

PERSONAL FOR McINTOSH; HER

BROTHER DIED AFTER AN ATTACK BY

A FELLOW INMATE WHILE UNDER

ARREST FOR MARIJUANA POSSESSION.

>> THIS IS A MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR

INDUSTRY, AND MOST CONSUMERS

HAVE NO IDEA.

YOU KNOW, THEY HAVE THE

PRIVILEGE TO WALK INTO ANY

DISPENSARY WITHOUT HAVING THE

FAINTEST IDEA ABOUT WHO ARE THE

PEOPLE THAT HAVE SACRIFICED IN

ORDER FOR THIS INDUSTRY TO

EXIST.

>> Reporter: THE BLENDING OF

CANNABIS BUSINESS AND SOCIAL

JUSTICE REFLECTS A CORE MANDATE

OF STATE LAW.

IN 2016, VOTERS APPROVED BALLOT

QUESTION 4, WHICH MADE

MASSACHUSETTS THE FIRST STATE TO

REQUIRE POLICIES TO BRING PEOPLE

DISPROPORTIONATELY HARMED BY

CANNABIS PROHIBITION INTO THE

NEWLY LEGALIZED INDUSTRY.

THE STATE'S CANNABIS CONTROL

COMMISSION REQUIRES ALL

BUSINESSES TO HAVE A PLAN FOR

POSITIVE IMPACT ON REGIONS AND

COMMUNITIES DEEMED HARD-HIT BY

THE WAR ON DRUGS.

THIS INCLUDES RECRUITING

EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE A PAST DRUG

CONVICTION.

NEARLY FIVE YEARS ON, THE

CANNABIS INDUSTRY IN

MASSACHUSETTS IS BLOOMING,

POPPING UP IN TOWNS MORE KNOWN

FOR TOURISM LIKE GLOUCESTER WITH

ITS SEAFARING HISTORY, WHICH IS

NOW HOME TO HAPPY VALLEY, A

BOUTIQUE OPERATION WHERE

CANNABIS IS CULTIVATED ON

LOCATION, THEN HARVESTED AND

PROCESSED, AND SOLD IN A SPACE

THAT MORE RESEMBLES AN APPLE

STORE.

>> WILL THAT BE ALL?

>> Reporter: SOUTH OF BOSTON, IN

BROCKTON, LEGAL GREENS OPENED IN

MARCH.

>> THERE'S NOT A LOT OF BLACK

BUSINESSES IN BROCKTON, AND

BROCKTON IS A MAJORITY-MINORITY

CITY.

AND IT WAS MY PRIORITY FOR ME TO

COME INTO DOWNTOWN PURPOSELY,

FOR ME TO REVITALIZE THIS AREA

BECAUSE IT HAS NEVER BEEN A GOOD

AREA.

>> SO, THERE'S GUMMIES...

>> Reporter: VANESSA JEAN-

BAPTISTE IS THE FIRST BLACK

WOMAN TO OPEN A RECREATIONAL

DISPENSARY ON THE U.S. EAST

COAST.

SHE WAS AN EARLY PARTICIPANT IN

ANOTHER SPECIAL STATE CANNABIS

INITIATIVE: EQUITY PROGRAMS THAT

PRIORITIZE QUALIFIED APPLICANTS

FOR EXPEDITED LICENSES AND EVEN

OFFER TRAINING FOR THOSE FROM

IMPACTED COMMUNITIES WANTING TO

GET INTO THE BUSINESS.

>> I WOULD NOT BE IN BUSINESS

WITHOUT IT, AND IT'S HUGE FOR

THEM TO EVEN DO A PROGRAM LIKE

THAT BECAUSE NO OTHER STATE HAS

DONE THAT BEFORE.

I KNOW PEOPLE THAT HAVE BEEN

KILLED BY THE WAR ON DRUGS, SO

IT'S MORE SO FOR ME TO GIVE BACK

TO THE COMMUNITY BECAUSE I KNOW

THAT MY COMMUNITY DESPERATELY

NEEDS IT.

>> Reporter: BUT JEAN-BAPTISTE'S

STORY IS RARE.

SHE'S ONE OF ONLY 12 EQUITY

APPLICANTS TO ACTUALLY OPEN

THEIR DOORS OUT OF 257 OPERATING

LICENSES ISSUED BY THE STATE.

CANNABIS CONTROL COMMISSIONER

NURYS CAMARGO AGREES THE SYSTEM

IS STRUGGLING.

>> THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY DOES

NOT LOOK LIKE ME.

IT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE A LOT OF

THE COMMUNITIES THAT HAVE BEEN

DISPROPORTIONATELY HARMED BY THE

FAILED WAR ON DRUGS.

WE HAVE ABOUT 4% TO 5% OF

APPLICANTS THAT EITHER ARE

ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT OR SOCIAL

EQUITY APPLICANTS.

THAT'S NOT WHAT WE INTENDED IN

THE BEGINNING.

IT'S NOT WHAT THE-- THE GOAL

WAS.

>> Reporter: CAMARGO SAYS WHAT'S

CALLED "CORPORATE CANNABIS" IS

DOMINATING THE MARKET.

>> I'VE SEEN MANY OF THE BIG

PLAYERS COME OUT AND OPEN UP,

LIKE, TWO AND THREE

DISPENSARIES, BUT WE'RE STILL

LEAVING OUT THE LITTLE GUY.

WE HAVE FOLKS THAT HAVE DONE

THIS WELL IN THE ILLICIT MARKET,

AND WE WANT THEM TO CROSS OVER,

BUT THERE'S NO CAPITAL.

THERE'S NO-- YOU KNOW, THERE'S--

THEY DON'T HAVE THE ACCESS, THEY

DON'T HAVE THE NETWORK.

>> IT'S FUNNY, TEN YEARS AGO,

WHEN I WAS ARRESTED, I WAS

CONSIDERED THE WORST PERSON

AROUND.

THE LOCAL PAPER VILLAINIZED ME

OVER A VERY SMALL AMOUNT OF

CANNABIS.

NOW, FLASH FORWARD TO HERE WE

ARE; I'M CONSIDERED A YOUNG,

BRIGHT ENTREPRENEUR FOR DOING

THE SAME EXACT THING THAT I WAS

DOING TEN YEARS AGO.

>> Reporter: DEVIN ALEXANDER IS

WHO THE MASSACHUSETTS LAW HAD IN

MIND.

HE WAS ARRESTED FOR MARIJUANA

POSSESSION IN HIGH SCHOOL,

DERAILING HIS PLANS OF JOINING

THE AIR FORCE.

HE LEARNED QUICKLY THAT EVEN IN

HIS HOMETOWN OF QUINCY, HE WAS

PRICED OUT OF OPENING A

DISPENSARY IN THE APPROVED AREA.

>> IT WASN'T AVAILABLE FOR

LEASE.

WE HAD TO BUY IT OUTRIGHT, WHICH

WOULD HAVE COST US $2 MILLION TO

$3 MILLION.

>> Reporter: THEN, THERE'S

WHAT'S CALLED A HOST COMMUNITY

AGREEMENT.

EVEN THOUGH CANNABIS IS

REGULATED BY THE STATE, THE

CITIES AND TOWNS HAVE THE

ULTIMATE SAY ON WHO GETS TO OPEN

THEIR DOORS.

WHILE MUNICIPALITIES CAN TAX

BUSINESSES UP TO 3% TO OFFSET

WHAT THEY SEE AS ADDITIONAL

BURDENS-- LIKE PARKING, EXTRA

POLICING, OR DRUG ABUSE

PROGRAMS-- THESE AGREEMENTS HAVE

SOMETIMES ALSO ASKED FOR

THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN

ADDITIONAL FEES AND DONATIONS.

THE MAYOR OF FALL RIVER WAS JUST

CONVICTED OF EXTORTING BRIBES IN

EXCHANGE FOR HIS HANDFUL OF

AVAILABLE LICENSES.

>> THESE TOWNS DON'T HAVE EQUITY

IN MIND, AND THEY JUST WANT TO

GO TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER, YOU

KNOW.

IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY TO PLAY,

YOU HAVE A BETTER CHANCE AT

OBTAINING THE HOST COMMUNITY

AGREEMENT THAN A SMALL-FUNDED

EQUITY APPLICANT.

OTHER STATES AREN'T DOING THIS.

WE'RE THE ONLY ONE IN THE

COUNTRY THAT REALLY GIVES THE

MUNICIPALITIES THIS LEVEL OF

CONTROL.

>> Reporter: IF ANYONE'S STORY

DEMONSTRATES THE POTENTIALLY

CRIPPLING IMPACT OF HOST

COMMUNITY AGREEMENTS, IT IS

CHAUNCEY SPENCER.

>> THIS IS HUGE!

>> OH, THIS IS ONLY A-- A SMALL

PORTION OF IT.

>> Reporter: NEWSHOUR MET HIM

TWO YEARS AGO, AT THE STOREFRONT

HE WAS RENTING IN ANTICIPATION

OF AN AGREEMENT WITH THE CITY OF

BOSTON.

SPENCER WAS IN THE FIRST POOL OF

STATE-CERTIFIED PRIORITY

APPLICANTS, IN 2018.

HE THOUGHT THAT WAS HIS TICKET

TO SUCCESS.

>> I'D GET MY LICENSING FIRST,

I'D BE FIRST TO OPEN.

AND, YOU KNOW, I KNEW THAT THERE

WOULD BE CROWDS.

I KNEW IT WOULD BE HYPED, YOU

KNOW, ALL THIS PUBLICITY.

I WAS READY FOR IT.

>> Reporter: BUT SPENCER'S

STOREFRONT IS NOW AN IMMIGRATION

OFFICE.

HE WENT BANKRUPT AFTER SPENDING

$100,000 AND HAD TO GIVE UP THE

LEASE.

NO APPROVAL EVER CAME.

>> THE LONGER I WAITED, THE MORE

COMPETITION I BEGAN TO GET.

>> Reporter: JUST TO BE CLEAR,

THEY DIDN'T COME BACK TO YOU AND

SAY "OH, YOU MISSED A FORM" OR

"WE NEED MORE CLARIFICATION."

>> NO, NOTHING.

>> Reporter: THERE'S A ZONING

ISSUE FOR YOUR LOCATION?

>> NO.

>> Reporter: YOU WERE PAYING

RENT?

>> YES.

PAID RENT, $5,000 A MONTH,

SITTING ON A LOCATION.

MEANWHILE, I JUST WATCHED THEM

DOLE OUT LICENSE AFTER LICENSE

AFTER LICENSE.

>> Reporter: IN RESPONSE TO AN

INVESTIGATION BY THE "BOSTON

GLOBE," CITY OFFICIALS SAID THEY

HANDLED SPENCER'S APPLICATION

LIKE ANY OTHER, AND FAIRLY.

BUT PUSHED BY NOW-MAYOR KIM

JANEY, AN EARLY PROPONENT OF

CANNABIS LEGALIZATION, THE CITY

SCRAPPED THAT APPROVALS PROCESS

AND CREATED A NEW OVERSIGHT

BOARD.

BUT IT WAS ALL TOO LATE FOR

SPENCER.

>> I KNOW PEOPLE WHO HAVE

REFINANCED THEIR HOMES.

I KNOW FOLKS WHO HAVE LOST THEIR

PENSIONS.

AND I THINK THAT IT'S UP TO

OUR-- OUR LEGISLATORS.

IT'S UP TO US AS REGULATORS.

IT'S ALSO UP TO OUR MAYORS, OUR

TOWN ADMINISTRATORS.

WE'RE GOING TO LOSE THE

OPPORTUNITY AND THE WINDOW WILL

CLOSE, AND MASSACHUSETTS WOULD

HAVE DONE SOME THINGS RIGHT AND

LEFT SOME THINGS OUT.

AND I THINK THAT OTHER STATES IN

THE COUNTRY HAVE WATCHED

MASSACHUSETTS AND HAVE TAKEN

FROM OUR BEST PRACTICES, BUT I

THINK HAVE BEEN A LITTLE BIT

MORE PROGRESSIVE IN SOME OF

THEIR SOCIAL EQUITY NOW IN TERMS

OF THEIR-- THEIR FUNDS AND THEIR

PROGRAMS.

>> Reporter: THE MASSACHUSETTS

LEGISLATURE IS NOW CONSIDERING

ACTION TO EXTEND THE STATE

REQUIREMENTS OF EQUITY DOWN TO

THE MUNICIPAL LEVEL AND GRANT

OVERSIGHT OF LEVIED FEES TO

CAMARGO'S COMMISSION.

AND NOW, NEW DELIVERY LICENSES

ARE BEING RESERVED ONLY FOR

EQUITY APPLICANTS FOR AT LEAST

THREE YEARS.

DELIVERY IS LESS EXPENSIVE TO

SET UP.

>> SEEING THE DELIVERY AS A

SECTOR THAT IS COMPLETELY

UNTOUCHED AND JUST READY FOR NEW

FACES AND FRESH BLOOD IN IT MADE

ME REALLY WANT TO GO AFTER THE

DELIVERY MODEL INSTEAD OF HAVING

A DISPENSARY.

>> COMING OUT OF THE VAULT, AND

THEN GO RIGHT INTO OUR SALLY

PORT AND LOAD UP THE VANS.

>> Reporter: DEVIN ALEXANDER

HELPED LOBBY FOR THAT PERIOD OF

EXCLUSIVITY AND IS NOW BUSY

SETTING UP PLANS WITH HIS

PARTNERS FOR A 2,000-SQUARE FOOT

WAREHOUSE AND A FLEET OF SECURE

VEHICLES.

HE ALSO WOULD LIKE TO SEE AN

EQUITY TRUST FUND, SOMETHING

ELSE THE LEGISLATURE IS

CONSIDERING.

CANNABIS IS STILL FEDERALLY

ILLEGAL, MAKING BANKING VERY

HARD FOR ENTREPRENEURS.

>> YOU SEE SOME STATES LIKE

ILLINOIS AND OAKLAND,

CALIFORNIA, THEY'RE GIVING THEIR

EQUITY APPLICANTS NO-INTEREST

LOANS IN THE SIX FIGURES.

I COULD TELL YOU, THAT GOES A

LONG WAY BECAUSE WHEN YOU'RE

TALKING TO SOME PEOPLE, TRYING

TO RAISE CAPITAL, AND YOU HAVE

LOW-INTEREST LOANS AND YOU SHOW

THEM, "OKAY, I JUST NEED THIS

MUCH MORE TO GET TO THE NEXT

LEVEL," YOU WOULD SEE A LOT MORE

EQUITY APPLICANTS GETTING

THROUGH THE PROCESS.

>> Reporter: FINALLY, SOME

CITIES ARE TAKING THEIR OWN

INITIATIVE, LIKE CAMBRIDGE,

WHICH HAS A SPECIAL PERIOD RIGHT

NOW JUST FOR EQUITY

ENTREPRENEURS.

CHAUNCY SPENCER IS NOW TRYING

THERE.

HE HAS HIS EYE ON A NEW SPACE IN

A FAST-DEVELOPING AREA.

IT'S CURRENTLY A PET STORE.

THE LOCATION HOLDS A GREAT DEAL

OF SYMBOLISM.

>> PEOPLE ASK ME, WHY DO I FEEL

THE NEED TO COME TO CAMBRIDGE?

AND I SAID, YOU KNOW, I-- I DO

HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH

CAMBRIDGE.

THAT RELATIONSHIP IS THAT THEY

HELD ME IN THAT JAIL RIGHT

THERE.

I-- I FEEL AS IF THEY SHOULD BE

ABLE TO ALLOW ME TO BECOME A--

A, YOU KNOW, A SUCCESSFUL

BUSINESSMAN IN THE SAME SPACE.

>> Reporter: WHEN YOU FIRST CAME

TO LOOK AT YOUR NEW POTENTIAL

STOREFRONT DOWN THE STREET HERE,

DID YOU DO A DOUBLE-TAKE?

>> OH, ABSOLUTELY.

I DID.

I DID.

YOU KNOW, I-- I SAID, "NO ONE'S

GOING TO BELIEVE THIS."

I SAID, "NO ONE'S GOING TO

BELIEVE THIS.

I CAN'T WAIT TO TELL THIS

STORY."

>> Reporter: STILL, IT'S A HARD

PROCESS.

WE WENT ALONG WITH SPENCER ON

HIS CRUCIAL PERMITTING HEARING

AT CAMBRIDGE CITY HALL.

HE WAS GRILLED ON EVERYTHING

FROM WINDOW TINTING TO TRASH

PICK-UP.

>> HOW DO YOU PLAN ON NOT

OVERWHELMING THE EXISTING

PARKING?

>> Reporter: AND DURING PUBLIC

COMMENTS, A LOCAL COMMUNITY

GROUP COMPLAINED SPENCER HADN'T

CONSULTED WITH THEM.

THE BOARD MADE THIS A

REQUIREMENT BEFORE THEY WOULD

GRANT APPROVAL.

HE HAD THAT MEETING AND HAS NOW

BEEN GIVEN HIS LOCAL PERMIT.

BUT HE'S STARTING FROM

SCRATCH-- NEW ARCHITECTURE PLANS

HE DREW HIMSELF AND A FRESH

START AT FUNDRAISING.

IN A BITTERSWEET DECISION, HE

ACCEPTED A DEVELOPMENT GRANT

FROM A MAJOR CANNABIS COMPANY

AND HOPES THEY MAY OFFER HIM A

SUPPLIER AGREEMENT.

HE'S EXCITED AND GRATEFUL FOR

THE HELP BUT REALIZES HIS

CURRENT DREAMS WILL LOOK

DIFFERENT FROM HIS EARLY ONES.

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