BOSTON – During its April 7 formal session, the Massachusetts State Senate approved an amendment offered by Senator John F. Keenan to prevent the state’s Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund from being exploited by larger corporations.  

Through the Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, an applicant attempting to open a cannabis-related business would be able to receive financial assistance from the Commonwealth if the applicant meets certain criteria of a “social equity business.” Criteria include applicant income restrictions, established residency in an area disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, or the applicant being of Black, African American, Hispanic, or Latino descent. 

Sen. Keenan’s legislation was filed as an amendment to a slate of cannabis regulations approved by the Senate and would ensure any applicant deemed a “social equity business” would have to retain this status for up to five years before the business could be sold. The amendment seeks to prevent the swift purchase of local applicants’ cannabis-related businesses by corporations that do not qualify as social equity businesses. 

When the question of legalizing recreational marijuana was on the ballot several years ago, Sen. Keenan opposed its passage based on several concerns, one of which was that big companies would take over the Massachusetts market.  

“The Commonwealth’s public resources are intended for individuals and communities that have been harmed by years of discriminatory regulations, not corporations that see a good financial opportunity after someone else put in the hard work,” said Sen. Keenan. “If this fund is going to make Massachusetts more socially equitable, then we need to protect these supports from exploitation.” 

The amendment also stipulated that the Trust Fund Board would set terms for a clawback of grants or loans should an owner sell a social equity business before the number of years set by the board has passed. Applicants would also have to pay a fine should they act in violation of conditions of the loan or grant, or if that owner violates the clawback provision.  

The bill considered by the Senate also contained language to clarify the process for communities to approve cannabis consumption establishments, which was part of the voter approved ballot question. Sen. Keenan filed an amendment to delay that approval process until field sobriety and chemical analysis tests to determine marijuana intoxication that would cause driving impairment are developed and deemed scientifically reliable, though this amendment was not adopted. 

“One of my concerns when marijuana was legalized was that we would see an increase in impaired driving,” said Sen. Keenan. “With alcohol, we have tests that can reliably determine whether a person is operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and they serve as a deterrent to impaired driving. With marijuana, we have no such tests, and I feel that until such tests are developed, we should not allow the consumption of marijuana at establishments that are similar to bars serving alcohol.” 

Sen. Keenan also filed an amendment to the bill that would have prohibited marijuana consumption establishments from being located within multi-use buildings where children live or where child-care centers and similar businesses are located, and that no matter where such an establishment was located, there be requirements to limit marijuana smoke and smells from escaping the establishment and impacting nearby residents and businesses. The amendment was also not adopted. 

“As the voter-approved marijuana market continues to grow and evolve, I first and foremost will always work to ensure that our children are not targeted by the industry, that public safety concerns, particularly about impaired driving, are addressed, and that any benefits of legalization stay local,” said Sen. Keenan.  

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