A proposal to revamp the state’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law would weaken efforts to increase opportunities for blacks and other minorities to participate in the legal cannabis industry, diversity advocates argued on Tuesday.
In a statement, the group Equitable Opportunities NOW! said it was “profoundly troubled” by the House version of the bill, scheduled for debate on Wednesday. The group seeks inclusion of minority-owned marijuana businesses, according to its Facebook page.
With recreational marijuana now legal in eight states and medicinal marijuana in nearly 30 states, there have been calls nationwide for policies that benefit communities that historically have experienced disproportionately high rates of arrests and convictions for marijuana-related offenses.
In Massachusetts, for example, African-Americans made up nearly 7 percent of the state’s population in 2015 but accounted for roughly 34 percent of cannabis arrests, according to an analysis of FBI data.
The voter-approved law included specific language stating that a prior conviction for a marijuana-related offense cannot, by itself, exclude an individual from being licensed to operate a cannabis business or to be employed by one.
Critics say the House bill would not only strip that provision from the law but also allow state marijuana regulators to conduct far-reaching background checks that disqualify potential applicants.
“Under this bill, not only are people with felonies excluded from cannabis employment, anyone can be rejected from a license or have a license revoked for any conviction, including a traffic ticket,” said Shaleen Title, a lawyer who helped draft the November ballot question. “Such overbroad and vague restrictions perpetuate the discrimination associated with marijuana prohibition, contrary to what the voters passed.”
The ballot initiative was the first in the U.S. to include language encouraging “full participation in the regulated marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana