By Ryan Grewal, news staff

City Councilors Ayanna Pressley and Frank Baker (D-3) led a public discussion at City Hall Monday night about strategies to promote equity in recreational marijuana licensing in case Massachussetts votes yes on Question 4.

At-large Councilor Pressley assembled an informed and experienced group of cannabis entrepreneurs, legal experts and civil liberties advocates to testify in panels at an Oct. 24th hearing of the Committee on Jobs, Wages and Workforce Development, which Baker chairs.

The City Council will make recommendations to the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) on how to best combat marijuana market inequities, should Massachussetts vote to legalize recreational marijuana on Nov. 8.

Many panelists involved in the industry discussed the issues faced by people of color in the medical marijuana licensing process restricted availability of licenses and institutionalized racism.

Adam Fine, an attorney at marijuana-focused law firm Vicente Sederberg, explained the extent to which monetary barriers to entry prevented minorities from entering the marijuana industry.

“It’s very very rare to get a person of color that would have the means to get through [the licensing process],” Fine said. “The simpler the process, the less expensive it is. If you simplify it, you will increase participation.”

Others testifying on Monday expressed support for specific institutional protections for minorities in the licensing process. Sonia Espinosa, co-founder of the Cannabis Cultural Association, attested to the need to amend the institutional barriers to entry.

“There is going to be a control commission and hopefully we can have one person of color to voice to the narratives and struggles of people of color,” Espinosa said.

After over an hour of expert testimony, Pressley and Baker opened the floor for public comments. A diverse group of Bostonians seized this opportunity to voice their opinions regarding marijuana licensing.

Sean Berte, a firefighter from Roslindale, described his experience being jailed for growing marijuana and the struggles of life as an ex-convict.

“The stigma around being a convicted of drug charges is too much,” Berte said. “For every person in my position, there are three to seven people of color.”

Kiana Mark of Roxbury remained skeptical at the city’s ability to adequately fight racial discrimination, citing the failures of other agencies like the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

“If the CCC is anything like the BRA, I’m very wary that opportunities will be available to people of color,” Mark said at the meeting.

Photo courtesy Chuck Grimmett, Creative Commons