Kudos to Kim Janey for marijuana equity initiative

Today with their vote for Councilor Kim Janey’s groundbreaking regulation initiative, the Boston City Council has the chance to take a definite stand for fairness, equity and transparency in the burgeoning and lucrative cannabis industry.

That is, lucrative for some.

Only a few big-buck operators control most of the marijuana business in Massachusetts, and they are “diversifying” all right — to make sure they control even more.

I’m sure there are naysayers reading this who either disdain or don’t believe that there’s a need for “equity” in the cannabis industry. But the fact is getting to parity has been a long and rough road for minorities. Fewer than a handful have made it as operators compared to the deep-pocketed operators who have enough pay-to-play cash to go around.

Their only real attempt at diversity has been to use blacks and other minorities — that some refer to derisively as “fronts” — to showcase their businesses. In the marijuana industry as a whole, there is limited real diversity and very few ownership opportunities. Councilor Janey has a plan for that. Her initiative calls for an entirely new marijuana license board to oversee the current pot industry in Boston, with a focus on helping the marijuana business prospects of minority residents — especially those who had been arrested for possessing or selling weed before it was legal. Janey wants fair play and real, documented minority ownership.

Janey’s approach to overhauling the existing system is comprehensive and considerate and includes safeguards that are intended to be not only fair but are designed to jump-start what many have called a sluggish process.

It says a lot that Mayor Marty Walsh supports Janey on this. It shows that he too wants a fair and inclusive process.

Janey deserves considerable credit for her grasp of how weed served as a gateway drug in more ways than one in communities of color. For too long, minorities have been major casualties in the War on Drugs, especially when it came to marijuana arrests. Many lives have gone up in smoke as a result. Countless kids who were caught smoking or carrying a joint could never shake the crime or the out-sized penalties that often went with it. Try getting a job with a drug conviction. Unwarranted driving-while-black-or-brown stops that ended up finding weed in the car could result in a long jail sentence, and a downward spiral in countless ways that contributed to destabilizing whole communities.

There’s really no way to make up for the years of unequal treatment and sentencing when weed was illegal, but it’s a smart move on Janey’s part and that of the council and mayor to support the creation of a structure and a system designed to promote fairness and transparency in the legal marijuana business for the future.


Joyce Ferriabough Bolling is a media and political strategist and communications specialist.



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