As the largest city in western Massachusetts readies for the arrival of legal marijuana retail stores, there is a move to help people who were harmed when selling pot was a crime.
The Springfield City Council will consider adopting a social equity policy when it comes to deciding who will be permitted to legally sell marijuana to the general public.
Councilor Justin Hurst, who chairs the ad-hoc Committee on Marijuana Regulations, said the city should set as a target that half the marijuana retail stores in Springfield be owned and operated by blacks and Hispanics.
"There is no question that blacks and Hispanics have unfortunately suffered overwhelmingly when marijuana was illegal, and our hope is we can level they playing field by possibly giving them priority status," said Hurst.
The proposal is based on a Social Equity Program adopted by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. The policy is designed to “create sustainable pathways to the adult-use cannabis industry for people disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.”
According to a cannabis industry trade group, 81 percent of the owners of marijuana businesses nationally are white. Blacks and Hispanics are statistically more likely to have been arrested for marijuana crimes.
Under the state policy, City Councilor Tracye Whitfield said pot store owners could be required to employ people who live in neighborhoods where there were high arrest rates for marijuana-related crimes.
" It is appropriate because it was inappropriate for people to be targeted based on race and the color of their skin, and they need a break now to turn their lives around, so it should be included in the ( host community) agreement," said Whitfield.
Before a marijuana business can open in Springfield the owner must negotiate a host community agreement with the city administration that is subject to final approval by the City Council.
In addition to a 3 percent local tax on each sale, marijuana stores can also be required to pay impact fees.
Hurst wants at least 50 percent of the revenue collected from all the marijuana businesses in the city to be used to revitalize neighborhoods that were disproportionately harmed by marijuana arrests.
"That could be included in the host community agreement that is negotiated by the mayor, so we hope to get his buy-in as well," said Hurst.
The City Council has approved regulations that will allow for up to 15 retail marijuana stores located in business and industrial zones. Additionally, the stores can only be on 58 streets including many major commercial thoroughfares.
Other restrictions include a 500-foot buffer zone with schools and a 50-foot setback from residences.
Each store will need to obtain a special permit from the City Council that will include security and parking requirements.