Boston under new leadership, a barrage of bills at the state level, and can NY inspire the rest of US?
For the most part, it appears that Boston voters who support equitable cannabis dispensary licensing can remain optimistic about this year’s mayoral election.
Three of the six currently-announced candidates are city councilors who supported creating a Boston Cannabis Board that was independent of the mayor’s office.
The state’s cannabis laws prioritize dispensary license “equity applicants,” which are people from communities that have endured the brunt of the damage caused by drug enforcement. The independent Cannabis Board is intended, in part, to ensure a 1:1 ratio in approvals of equitable and non-equitable applicants.
John Barros, who resigned as the city’s Economic Development Chief to announce his bid, has yet to formally speak on cannabis as a mayoral candidate. Barros previously said he supports a licensing ratio of 1-to-1 between equity applicants and non-equity applicants, when the City Council raised the issue of equity in late 2019. At that same time, Barros said the real problem was a lack of applicants, claiming that only one company that qualifies as equitable had ever applied for a license in Boston.
Despite Barros’ lackluster enthusiasm, the council was able to reach an agreement with then-Mayor Marty Walsh to establish an independent cannabis license board for the city that would focus on equitable licensing. The Boston Cannabis Board started approving dispensary licenses in August, 2020. Since then, approvals have been pretty even between equity and non-equity applicants, at 14 and 15, respectively.
State Rep. Jon Santiago is also in the running. He has not weighed in on Boston’s efforts for equitable licensing, but as a state legislator he voted in favor of a bill to increase the state’s regulatory oversight on community agreements for cannabis dispensaries.
First time candidate Michael Bianchi has yet to publicly declare his position on current cannabis policy.
Mayor Kim Janey, who was only recently sworn in, has yet to say whether or not she will run for reelection this fall, but it’s easy to imagine where she stands on the issue of equitable dispensary licensing, considering she led the effort to create an independent board.
At this point, Janey intends to keep the Cannabis Board operating as is, according to a spokesperson from her office.
Equitable licensing or not, there is still a dearth of places in the Commonwealth where non-property owners can legally smoke, which is one of many examples of how the cannabis industry remains undressed around here.
State Sen. Julian Cyr Submitted a bill last month to legalize cannabis lounges, which would likely solve the problem of not having a place to legally smoke, at least for affluent smokers (who most likely do not otherwise have to worry about law enforcement). Cyr’s bill is his second attempt to legalize public consumption after his previous bill failed to make it to a floor vote before the end of the 2020 session.
Similarly, there are at least 90 bills between the state House and Senate addressing this realm. Some call for increased restrictions, while others cover equitable licenses and municipal host agreements.
With a legislature that commonly leaves most bills in committee without a floor vote, not to mention a Republican governor who has never been enthusiastic about legalized marijuana, substantial change may have to wait until the 2022 election cycle.
Depending on the amount of faith one puts in the Democrats’ ability to pass progressive legislation, there could be reason for optimism in regards to cannabis legalization.
In an April 3rd interview with Politico, Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer pledged to push a marijuana legalization bill through the Senate. The New York congressman said that he was hoping that New York legalizing recreational cannabis through the legislature would serve as an example that there is now political will in the country for federal-level legalization.
Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled US House passed a decriminalization bill in late 2020, but at the time Mitch McConnell’s Republican majority in the Senate meant the bill was dead on arrival in the upper House. Now that the Democrats narrowly control both bodies, there is a chance that legalization could actually make it to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Aside from legalization, House member and former Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley recently resubmitted the People’s Justice Guarantee, which is a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that includes provisions to expunge drug arrests related to cannabis.
“In this moment, we have an opportunity and responsibility to pursue bold, structural reforms that shift resources away from institutions that perpetuate brutality and injustice and invest in solutions that promote community safety and center the dignity and humanity of all people,” Pressley said in a media release accompanying her re-submission of the bill.
As with most things involving the Democratic majority, professed intent and actual results can vary greatly—just ask the White House staffers who were recently fired for past marijuana use.
Zack is a veteran reporter. He writes for DigBoston and VICE, and formerly reported for the Boston Courant and Bulletin Newspapers.