Retail sales of medical and recreational marijuana in the U.S. have been projected to reach $12 billion by the end of 2019. In Massachusetts, the total sale of recreational marijuana have topped $100 million last month according to data released by the Cannabis Control Commission (“CCC”). This is a significant rise from the CCC’s January report of nearly $24 million in recreational sales. However, statistics also show that at the beginning of this year only 4 marijuana licenses were held by Economic Empowerment Applicants (“EEA”) out of a total of 247 license applications – amounting to a mere 3 percent of all recreational license applicants qualifying as minority-owned.
At the foundation of Massachusetts’ cannabis legislation is a commitment to ameliorating the disproportionate harm done to minority communities as a result of the War on Drugs, specifically in the context of the prohibition on marijuana. Pursuant to St. 2017, c. 55, the CCC is required to ensure that members from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the enforcement of marijuana laws are not excluded from the cannabis industry. As a result, the CCC established a system of priority review for EEAs who meet three out of the six criteria, which include among others:
- Majority of Ownership belonging to people who have lived in areas of disproportionate impact for 5 of the last 10 years;
- At least 51% of employees or sub-contractors with drug-related CORI, but are otherwise legally employable in a cannabis-related enterprise.
Additionally, applicants or licensees may be eligible for the Commonwealth’s Social Equity Program, which provides applicants or licensees assistance with recruitment, accounting, operational development and other programing to decrease the disparities in life outcomes for these eligible individuals and improving the quality of life in areas of disproportionate impact. Some of the goals of the Social Equity Program include:
- “reduce barriers to entry in the commercial marijuana industry;”
- “provide professional and technical services and mentoring for businesses facing systemic barriers;”
- “and promote sustainable, socially and economically reparative practices in the commercial marijuana industry in Massachusetts.”
Nonetheless, the social and economic gap persists. In effort to bridge this gap, Garden Remedies, Inc., the first woman-run and physician-run cannabis company in Massachusetts, is taking an active role in furthering the priorities of the Social Equity Program and helping to realize its goals.
Garden Remedies has implemented a cannabis mentorship program, known as Catalyst Mentoring Program. In fostering the program, Garden Remedies places mentorship to EEAs, and the success of such applicants, as a priority. “As a mission-driven organization, it is core to our culture, and important to all of us,” said Dr. Karen Munkacy, Founder, President and CEO of Garden Remedies. The Program graduated its first class of cannabis entrepreneurs early last month, comprised of three students –two of which were economic empowerment applicants and the third was a woman-led business.
Set apart from other programs in the industry, Garden Remedies provides its participants with tactical and tangible guidance, at no cost to those enrolled, on not only how to break the barrier of entering the cannabis market, but also how to create a business that thrives. The Catalyst Mentoring Program is a 14-week program, aimed at three learning tracks: processing, cultivation or retail. Participants are able to tour the facilities of Garden Remedies, including its high-tech lab and cultivation facility, as well as undergo a series of in-person and virtual learning experiences and sessions focused on one-on-one mentorship.
Despite the extremely competitive and rapidly-evolving industry in which Garden Remedies operates, the company recognizes the benefits of an unsaturated market. “We’re at such an early stage in the industry there’s plenty of room for competition and plenty of people will be successful. If we can help develop and mentor some new entrepreneurs to help maintain the industry, it’s good for us too,” said Jeffery Herold, Chief Operations Officer of Garden Remedies.
Through its Catalyst Mentorship Program, Garden Remedies’ dedicated efforts to help pave the rocky road for new entrepreneurs and economic empowerment applicants serves as an example and opportunity for cannabis companies in other states to further their states’ social equity programs and help open the door to new entrants in the cannabis industry.