BEVERLY — A city councilor is calling on the city to reserve one of its remaining openings for marijuana businesses for Black or Latino ownership.
In a letter to his fellow councilors, City Councilor Dominic Copeland said none of the agreements that the city has signed so far for marijuana shops meet the state’s goal of creating equity in the recreational marijuana business. He asked that the city discuss holding an open position until a plan can be put in place “to help us achieve this objective.”
Beverly has signed two agreements for marijuana shops and has two remaining openings under rules set by the City Council that limit the number of marijuana businesses in the city to four. In an interview, Copeland said the openings provide a chance for the city to live up to its stated commitment to social justice and racial equity.
“To me, if we just give licenses to four companies that have nothing to do with Black or Latino ownership, then we have failed and we have become part of the problem, part of the same systemic racism that we’re trying to stand up against,” Copeland said.
The state has attempted to help minority-owned businesses get a foothold in the new industry under social equity and economic empowerment programs that offer free training and prioritize the review of certain applicants. But those programs, which were intended to assist people and communities that were disproportionately harmed by the “war” on drugs, do not guarantee that those applicants will get a license. So far only 26 businesses have opened under the programs, according to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
Applicants for a marijuana business need to sign an agreement with the host community before they can apply to the state for a license. Beverly has signed agreements with companies for marijuana retail stores at 13 Enon St. and 350 Rantoul St., which are expected to open by the end of the year or early next year.
The city currently has applications from seven companies for the two remaining openings. Two have applied under the state’s social equity program as women-owned and/or LGBTQ-owned businesses, according to applications on file at City Hall.
Copeland said he did not know if any of the current applicants have Black or Latino ownership. If not, he said, the city should hold one of its openings and encourage Black and Latino people to apply.
“Even if we said we’ll hold it open for the short term,” he said. “You have to be intentional about the results you want to achieve and who you want to achieve them with. If we don’t help Black Americans where it’s needed most, then we’ve failed. We’re the ones who have been impacted by the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and financial regulations that have been put against us.”
The final decision about signing a host community agreement rests with the mayor. Asked if he would hold an opening for Black or Latino ownership, Mayor Mike Cahill said: “It’s an interesting concept. It’s not something that I can commit to doing.” He said the current applicants have been working “in good faith” to address questions the city has about their operations before any agreement is signed.
Cahill said one of the criteria used to select a company is whether the ownership group and investors are “representative of a diverse community.” Applicants are also judged on their business, public safety and parking plans, among other criteria.
Copeland said the state should be responsible for ensuring that Black and Latino owners can get into the marijuana business. But he said Beverly is in a position to make a statement about the issue and hopefully bring about changes.
“We have a rare opportunity — once in a lifetime, really — to say, ‘This is a chance to create true equity,’” Copeland said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.