By Bob Katzen

The House 155-0, approved a bill that makes changes in the cannabis industry including a section that would require the state to put its tax and licensing revenue from the sales of marijuana revenue into a newly created Social Equity Trust Fund to provide grants and loans, including forgivable and no-interest loans, designed to assist entrepreneurs and businesses from communities disproportionately harmed by the decades of marijuana prohibition.

The measure would also allow municipalities to vote by a local referendum or through a vote of the municipal government for social consumption of marijuana to take place in their community. The Senate has already approved its own version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version.

Supporters explained that opening an average cannabis retail shop can require up to $1.5 million. They noted that since federal cannabis laws prevent these businesses from accessing traditional bank loans, lack of capital can pose an insurmountable barrier. They noted that less than 20 (6 percent) of the 346 marijuana businesses are connected to participants in the Cannabis Control Commission’s current social equity program or economic empowerment entrepreneurs.

“This legislation builds upon the House’s multi-session efforts to create a fair and successful cannabis industry, fostering equitable opportunities to those disproportionately impacted by the systemic racism of historic drug policy,” said Speaker of the House Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “With this legislation, the House addresses ongoing concerns that have only become more pronounced with the growth of the cannabis industry, such as the host community agreement process and systemic barriers for minority-owned businesses to enter the cannabis market.”

“This legislation continues to build on the strives we have made in the cannabis industry to ensure equitable access for all Massachusetts residents, particularly those who have been disadvantaged by marijuana prohibition and enforcement,” said Rep. Dan Donahue (D-Worcester), House Chairman of the Committee on Cannabis Policy. “This bill lays out a clear and fair approach to expungement for prior marijuana convictions that ensures the best interest of justice is served by providing a real and effective avenue for many to put their past behind them.”

“I voted against the cannabis bill first based on the principle that I believe legalization was a mistake,” said Rep. Jeff Turco (D-Winthrop), one of only two members who voted against the measure. “I believe this bill compounds the mistake by using taxpayer funding to finance new entrants into the cannabis market. In addition, this bill will allow people convicted of distributing cannabis in a school zone and to children to be permanently expunged from their criminal record. In light of all of these concerns, I voted against the bill.”

Rep. Marc Lombardo (D-Billerica), the only other representative who voted against the measure, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it).

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven Yes

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