Communities of color given preference in recreational marijuana licensing

The first recreational marijuana shops will open this summer and the state says more than 200 applications have already been submitted for consideration.

Among the first already approved are businesses who plan to operate in communities where cannabis arrest rates were high - and that's no coincidence.

Attorney and cannabis entrepreneur Laury Lucien has big dreams for her marijuana dispensary.

"When you have an opportunity to operate in this sphere where people are still left out, you have a responsibility to make those wrongs right," said Lucien.

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A BuzzFeed investigation showed that African Americans own less than one percent of all marijuana businesses nationwide.

Lucien is one of the 113 preliminary applications who applied for a so-called economic empowerment license under the state's recreational marijuana law.

A program from companies that are led by, employ, and/or benefit people from communities impacted by high rates of arrests for cannabis-related crimes.

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"Women and people of color had been barred from so many industries so this is the opportunity for us to be proactive and intentional at the beginning of the establishment of this new industry," said Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.

Pressley helped lead the charge to include the economic empowerment mandate in the legislation; the first of its kind in the country.

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"We like to say a rising tide lifts all boats, but it really depends on what boats you're in. So we wanted to make sure that we were going to be intentional in codifying through legislation those opportunities both in ownership and also in workforce," said Pressley.

Recent data from the CDC and ACLU show that while African Americans make up roughly 14 percent of the U.S. population, they make up almost 40 percent of pot possession arrests.

The Commonwealth is also the first state not to bar former convicted felons from operating in and around the industry.

"Disproportionately people of color were incarcerated for marijuana possession and now have criminal records and experience incredible employment discrimination. And we know the number one contributor to recidivism is unemployment.

"If the system works, it'll tell them that they matter," said Lucien.

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Stay tuned for our new Mass. Marijuana podcast, launching next week.

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