In 2017 Massachusetts passed Session Law Chapter 55 (An Act To Ensure Safe Access To Marijuana), which outlined several regulations and expectations for marijuana dispensaries, as well as an HCA to be worked out between municipalities and their local dispensaries.
Section 40 of the Act is particularly salient because it describes how the state is obligated to use money drawn from taxed dispensary revenue to fund programs for “restorative justice, jail diversion, workforce development, industry specific technical assistance, and mentoring services for economically-disadvantaged persons in communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for marijuana offenses.”
The Act also created a commission to handle related funds, dubbed the Cannabis Control Commission. Co-author of the Act and Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title said that the Act intended to give municipalities flexibility to make their own local marijuana industry.
“The intent of the law was to allow municipalities to do what was right for them. So if the residents of a town or city are seeking to ban dispensaries all together, they can do that. If they want to encourage certain types of businesses like small local businesses or farmers, they can do that,” Title said.
Given that leniency, townships and cities are not legally obligated to follow Massachusetts’s footsteps in seeking equity or involvement in the industry. Therefore, local laws rely on advocates, such as Brookline’s Donelle O’Neall Sr., to garner support.
“I had a feeling that was going to go recreational. I didn’t want anyone to miss out, everyone who’s been hurt and could use money or a grant of some sort to get them caught up in the race of life. So I asked certain people on the what should I do? My first attempt, shortly after, was the Warrant Article,” O’Neall said.
According to O’Neall, the REAF began as the Economic Equity Advancement Fund and mandated a new and isolated tax on marijuana dispensaries.
Due to the state and local taxes already imposed on dispensaries, adding another tax would have tested the limits of the law, Fernandez said. Currently, dispensaries pay 6 percent of revenue made off local sales to the town via the Mitigation Fund and Local Options Tax. Coupled with the state tax they already pay, another local tax would have most likely faced tremendous opposition, and would have required clearance at the state and even federal level.
Fernandez cited these issues, which would make creating a new tax inefficient and not strictly legal, as the reason for switching to the Mitigation Fund.
Another change was the switch from a standard Warrant Article to a resolution, meaning the original bill would have been a law if it had cleared Town Meeting. O’Neall attributed these various changes to the partnership between himself and Fernandez throughout the fund’s creation.
“I ended up asking for help, and I got Raul to co-petition with me. We had to change the language, including the name from Economic Equity to Racial Equity, but with his help, we were able to really push it through,” O’Neall said.