Five years after Massachusetts residents legalized cannabis for adult-use, the state is still struggling to realize the lofty goals of that effort. From the consumer standpoint, legalization has worked just fine: long lines at dispensaries quickly subsided as more businesses sprouted and soaked up demand, the steep price of legal cannabis in Massachusetts has been dropping, albeit slowly, and, arguably most important, fewer people — though still disproportionately Black and brown people — are getting unnecessarily tangled up in the criminal justice system for possession.
From the business side, however, the laws that legalized cannabis in the state have yet to fulfill their promise. Though the industry has delivered thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue to Massachusetts, its current regulation has been plagued with corruption and has created barriers to entry for small businesses. Though the state established a social equity program that aims to help people of color — who were most negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis and the war on drugs — start businesses in the industry, just about 8% of companies that have opened cannabis facilities are owned by people who participated in the state’s social equity program.
Much of the industry’s woes are a result of inaction from the Legislature. After the state rewrote the ballot measure that voters passed, lawmakers have not updated the rules and regulations that govern the cannabis economy, in spite of local corruption over licensing and new evidence that shows the state moving toward market domination by big companies rather than a competitive environment. (Though one bill did pass the House, none have reached the governor’s desk since 2017.) If Massachusetts wants to ensure that it protects consumers from predatory business practices, fosters a competitive environment for small businesses, and roots out corruption, then it has to be more proactive in passing regulatory measures that allow the market to grow responsibly.
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