Massachusetts: Public Comment Now Open Regarding Changes to the Commission’s Disproportionately Impacted Areas

Starting Monday, January 31, 2022, the public may weigh in on possible changes to the Cannabis Control Commission (Commission)’s list of 29 Massachusetts municipalities – including certain census tracts – deemed Disproportionately Impacted Areas (DIAs). Submissions should be sent to Commission@CCCMass.com with the subject line, “Public Comment: Disproportionately Impacted Areas” by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 4, 2022.

The map above shows the Commission’s 29 identified Disproportionately Impacted Areas in Massachusetts. Note: the Cities of Boston, Lowell, Worcester, and Springfield DIAs are limited to specific census tracts.
What are DIAs, and why do they matter?
The Commission has designated certain geographic areas in Massachusetts as DIAs for having historically disproportionately higher drug-policy enforcement and lower socio-economic status due to marijuana prohibition and the War on Drugs.

The 29 DIAs respond to the Commission’s equity mandates under state law (M.G.L. c. 94G, 4(a½)(iv)) and its own regulations requiring the agency to establish procedures and policies to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities.

The current list of DIAs, in part, established eligibility for the Commission’s Economic Empowerment program, for which state law only permitted applications during a two-week period in 2018. The 122 Certified Economic Empowerment Applicants receive priority license application review, certain fee waivers, and exclusive access to Commission pre-certification and delivery and social consumption license types for a minimum of three years.

DIAs are also relied on for determining eligibility for participation in the agency’s Social Equity Program (SEP). The SEP is an ongoing training and technical assistance program intended to assist individuals from communities that have been harmed by the War on Drugs with gaining full participation in the regulated industry as marijuana business owners, employees, or ancillary services working alongside licensees. The SEP just accepted 446 new people into its third cohort, bringing total participants to nearly 900 individuals so far. SEP Participants also receive expedited license application review, certain fee waivers, and exclusive access to Commission pre-certification and delivery and social consumption license types for a minimum of three years.

Additionally, every prospective marijuana business in Massachusetts is required to submit a Plan to Positively Impact Disproportionately Harmed People as part of their license application. According to the Commission’s guidance, these “Positive Impact Plans” should impact certain identified communities, including past or present residents of DIAs, SEP Participants, and Certified Economic Empowerment Applicants. These plans must outline examples of goals and programs that could benefit them.

For which materials is the Commission seeking comment?
Several materials and conversations have informed the Commission’s consideration of DIAs to date.

A December 2017 study, “The Impact of Drug and Marijuana Arrests on Local Communities in Massachusetts,” helped Commissioners identify the current list of 29 cities and towns, including specific census tracts in Boston, Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester, as DIAs. Review the January 9, 2018 public meeting presentation and minutes from that discussion using these links.

In March 2021, Commissioners discussed the results of an additional report “Identifying Disproportionately Impacted Areas by Drug Prohibition in Massachusetts,” which aimed to (1) develop a method to empirically assess the extent to which Massachusetts communities have been impacted historically by cannabis prohibition and the “War on Drugs;” (2) apply the method to generate a “disproportionate impact score” (“DI” score) that reflects those impacts for different areas of Massachusetts; and (3) provide a ranking of areas in Massachusetts according to the “DI” score. Review the public meeting packet and video recording from that discussion using these links.

Commissioners have also engaged in stakeholder conversations with community leaders, licensees, equity applicants, and municipal officials statewide to 1) gather data that may not yet have been considered by the agency for the purposes of DIA designation and 2) gain direct insight from individuals with important perspective about the DIA list and firsthand experience working with disproportionately impacted populations.
Although the Commission has not yet identified a timeline to discuss what, if any, policy changes they may make to its DIA list, this public comment period will provide critical feedback to inform future consideration of the issue.

View the current DIA list
Review the 2017 study
Review the 2021 study

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