Massachusetts was miles ahead of Rhode Island when they legalized cannabis for adult use in 2016, especially when you consider the comprehensive social equity provisions included in their legalization framework. While far from perfect, the Social Equity Program certainly set a new standard for what we should expect when it comes to state social equity provisions, and laid the groundwork for future refinement based on the challenges and pitfalls that Massachusetts has faced in the first years of legalization.
Despite the good intentions of the social equity program, it proved more difficult than expected to get minority-owned businesses licensed in Massachusetts. Only 4.5% of the applicants for state licenses registered as minority-owned, which reflects the abysmal lack of diversity of ownership in the cannabis industry as a whole — 81% white, and only 4% Black-owned (Marijuana Business Daily). Currently, only 10 of the 280 cannabis business licenses awarded in Massachusetts have gone to Economic Empowerment or Social Equity applicants, and nearly 75% of those who have applied to work in the industry are white (Black and Latinx people make up less than 12% of the marijuana workforce).
There are certainly several contributing factors — institutional racism and generational wealth not the least of them. The road has been far from easy for many of them so far, and some are still yet to open their doors. In case you are one of the many Rhode Islanders who will be driving over the border to buy pot in Massachusetts this year (travel restrictions permitting!), here are a few Black-owned cannabis businesses you can support in 2021:
Pure Oasis; Boston, Mass: Opened in March 2020 and owned by Kobie Evans and Kevin Hart, Pure Oasis was the first adult-use dispensary to be licensed in Boston, after years of hard work and persistence. Unfortunately, COVID lockdowns in the spring forced them to close, and they reopened later only to be looted during Black Lives Matter protests that turned chaotic. After everything Pure Oasis has endured to be able to provide cannabis to their community, I think they’ve more than earned your business next time you’re in Boston.
The Green Lady Dispensary; Nantucket, Mass: Billed as “Nantucket’s original marijuana dispensary,” The Green Lady is the first operational Black-owned and women-owned cannabis business in Massachusetts. With “a proud diverse ownership of Black Caribbean Americans and the next generation of young Black female entrepreneurs … The Green Lady is devoted to making a difference in this emerging industry, from our diverse workforce and the good deeds we do to help the local community.” The Green Lady Dispensary supports the efforts of local non-profit organizations, and brings jobs, benefits and state and local tax revenue to the island.
New Día; Worcester, Mass (Coming 2021): Co-founded in 2018 by Ross Bradshaw, New Día’s “diversity-centered philosophy represents doing business in a responsible, ethical and compassionate way that provides opportunity to communities and people who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.” Even better, they have committed to hiring people who live in the neighborhood, and they’ll be opening summer 2021.
Evergreen Farms; Hyde Park, Mass (Coming 2021): Owners Sean Berte and Armani White were both convicted of marijuana crimes in the past, and today they own and operate Evergreen Farms in Hyde Park, thanks in part to the Massachusetts social equity program. Their license application was approved over a competing out-of-state applicant, and they are “passionate about keeping the economy local and hiring contractors who are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.”
Perhaps the cannabis landscape in Massachusetts can provide some insight into what the road ahead might look like for Rhode Island — assuming we get our act together to pass adult-use legalization soon. And if we do our job right, we will be able to build on both the successes and failures of the Massachusetts Social Equity Program.
One thing that 2020 taught us is that it remains as important as ever to be a conscious consumer, and not just when it comes to your cannabis purchasing decisions. For many white people, Black History Month is a time to listen and learn (as should be every month of the year) but it is also critical for white allies to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to tipping the scales of capitalism toward equity. During a month when we celebrate Black leadership and excellence in the past, let us also recognize the history being made in the present. Supporting Black-owned businesses as a cannabis consumer is just one small way to work toward building the kind of future we all want to live in.