The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a bill to amend the state’s weed laws, including significant social justice investments and the addition of cannabis consumption cafés to the state’s list of regulated businesses. House lawmakers voted 153 to 2 to approve the bill, roughly the same as the measure passed by the Massachusetts Senate in April.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ron Mariano, issued a statement Quote by Boston Globesaying the bill aims to “create a fair and successful cannabis industry, and promote equal opportunities for those disproportionately affected by the systemic racism of historic drug policy.”
The bill makes so many changes to current cannabis laws in Massachusetts that voters approved a ballot to legalize the use of cannabis by adults in 2016. Since then, recreational pot retailers in the state have sold more than $3 billion of herbal products, According to the report From the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission that was released on the same day the bill was approved in the House of Representatives.
“The legislation marks the House’s first significant move on cannabis since legalizing adult use,” says Adam Fine, partner at cannabis law firm Vicente Cederberg.
Fine wrote in an email to High Times. “The proposal creates a Social Equity Trust Fund for Social Equity Operators and provides a fundraising mechanism to help applicants enter the cannabis field.”
New investments in social property rights
Under the bill, 20% of pot taxes collected in the state will be allocated to investments in cannabis social justice work. The revenue share is higher than the 15% detailed in an earlier version of the bill and double the 10% listed in the Senate bill.
Funding increase would be significant. From July 2021 through April of this year, Massachusetts collected $124.5 million in recreational cannabis sale taxes. Under the House version of the bill, this amount of revenue would equate to more than $25 million to fund the state’s social cannabis business.
Under the state’s current social justice program, only 23 of the state’s 253 licensed cannabis businesses are owned by entrepreneurs eligible for economic empowerment and social justice programs run by the Commission on Cannabis Control. Chanel Lindsey, co-founder of Equal Opportunity Now, praised House lawmakers for the change and urged senators to keep a higher percentage in a middle version of the bill.
“Without this funding, our equity targets are just hollow promises,” Lindsey said.
Both versions of the bill require local governments to consider social justice factors when issuing local permits. The House bill also simplifies the removal process for previous weed-related convictions and arrests by making more crimes eligible for relief. The legislation also directs judges to approve all petitions eligible for disqualification, eliminating much of their discretion for rejecting applications without explanation.
“We mean it when we say that our residents have the right to keep these records of lifelong follow-up,” said state representative Michael Day.
Massachusetts Host Community Agreements Reform Bill
Another provision of the legislation would reform the contracts that cannabis companies sign with local governments for local licensing approval known as host community agreements. Cannabis operators and applicants for licenses have argued that the societal impact fees included in such agreements by local governments exceed the negative effects of the cannabis industry on society.
The Senate and House versions of the bill limit impact fees by requiring local governments to detail any adverse impact and to specify appropriate fees. State regulators will have the power to reject plans that require overpayments.
“Without enforcement, we’ve seen some communities push boundaries beyond what the law allows, and this legislation will make local passes straightforward and allow more social justice applicants to go through the local process,” Fine said.
The House version ends the impact fee once the weed business is open for five years and gives the cannabis control committee 45 days to review local agreements, while the Senate bill allows up to 120 days.
“The municipality literally has the upper hand in these negotiations, and many have used it for the wrong,” said state representative Daniel Donahoe. He added that the legislation would help create a “legal, fair and honest” cannabis industry in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Municipal Association of Local Governments opposed the change, saying the impact fee changes were a way for cannabis operators to keep more profits for themselves at the expense of local communities.
said Jeff Beckwith, associate director of the group.
Beckwith added that reducing or eliminating impact fees “could be a disincentive for additional communities to accept cannabis facilities.”
David O’Brien, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, praised the changes to state cannabis laws included in the legislation.
“By providing start-up capital, enabling [cannabis commission] With proper oversight of greedy municipalities, and allowing cannabis operators to deduct normal business expenses,” said O’Brien, “entrepreneurs will now be able to realize their dreams of starting a small business with fewer barriers in their path.” ”
Before the legislation becomes law, the convention committee will have to correct differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Then both bodies must vote in favor of the final bill before sending it to Governor Charlie Baker for approval.