Lawmakers hear testimony on bills aimed at social equity

BOSTON — Vanessa Jean Baptist opened Legal Greens dispensary last March in what was one of her proudest moments as a kid from Brockton.

“We went through a lot of hurdles and to be open and to be flourishing is; I’m so grateful,” said Jean Baptist.

One of the biggest hurdles for herself and other social equity applicants? Raising the hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital to secure a space, product and host community agreement or HCA.

“‘When we were opening we didn’t have any funding. We had to go through investors and there are like some sharks that want to take your host agreement and social equity, but don’t want to give you any equity in the business.”

Lawmakers at the State House heard testimony on a half dozen bills aimed at social equity.

Many centered around creating a state fund for economic empowerment and social equity applicants.

Some propose using a percentage of the state tax on retail marijuana businesses. House Bill 177 would pull from funds collected through HCAs.

Rolling Relief CEO Devin Alexander testified in favor and says, “The cannabis industry has generated over $1 billion in cannabis revenue and it is way past time that we have these loans and these grants.”

Massachusetts Municipal Association president, Geoff Beckwith says in an email statement the MMA is very supportive of a fund to help social equity applicants but the money should come from state coffers ONLY.

“With well over 1,000 host community agreements already executed, the state cannot pass a law that changes the terms of those contracts,” Beckwith adds saying the proposal to divert a third of HCA revenues to a social equity fund now is “a nonstarter and likely unconstitutional” and would need to be re-written.

House 177 author Rep. Dave Rodgers tells Boston 25 he’s happy to have a conversation on how to fund the bill or re-write the measure.  He says the bill could apply to new HCAs or take from local sales 3% local tax. Rodgers says the point is we need to help these entrepreneurs from historically disadvantaged communities.

Still, equity applicants like Alexander and Jean Baptist say passing any bill with a substantial amount of funds for startups like theirs would fulfill the promise of the state’s only in the nation equity provision.

“What they promised is now going to be an action with funding because you can teach somebody how to do an application. You can teach someone how to go through the process but if you don’t have any funds you really can’t go anywhere,” said Jean Baptist.