Weigh In on Cannabis Equity

Advisory committee seeks input on equity in the industry; public hearing on provision protecting unionization set for next month

Social and economic equity, from licensing to employment, has been a hot button issue in New Mexico’s burgeoning cannabis industry, and there are a few ways for the public to weigh in as recommendations are crafted.

The Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee—tasked with advising the Cannabis Control Division—allowed for public comment on equity at its Thursday meeting and posted an online survey seeking feedback on the development of a plan to promote participation in the industry by members of communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the drug war.

The committee, which held its first meeting in early August, has had about three months to create recommendations on equity, which chairwoman Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance tells SFR is “both not enough time and too much time” because “equity cannot wait.”

“There are so many well-established cannabis businesses that will easily move in and take over the marketplace and we want to make sure that those that might need access to capital or technical assistance or other support services, loans, will have a chance at being successful in this new industry,” Kaltenbach says during an interview last month.

The survey includes questions about the biggest barriers to entry for business owners and workers, eligibility criteria for those applying for equity assistance—like, for example, an arrest for a cannabis misdemeanor or felony—and what strategies by the state would be most effective in addressing issues of equity.

One such strategy is loans. Lawmakers on the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee last month rejected a proposal to allow up to $5 million dedicated to loans for cannabis microbusinesses with 200 mature plants or less.

New Mexico Finance Authority CEO Marquita Russel told lawmakers that microbusinesses “have very few options” for financing, but some lawmakers said more questions needed to be answered before the proposal could be approved.

“We’re still looking at whether or not this is a program we’ll be pursuing,” Lynn Taulbee, NMFA communications and outreach manager, tells SFR.

While business owners have been a strong focus in discussions of equity, workers can’t be left out, advocates say.

“In the most recent federal proposals, every single one of them has this explicit and worthwhile focus on equity for entrepreneurs and giving formerly incarcerated folks privileged access…to get into the business but no one has really said anything about standards to ensure cannabis jobs are good jobs,” says David Cooper, senior economic analyst at the think tank Economic Policy Institute.

That’s a problem because “the vast majority of people that are going to interact with this industry in terms of their career are going to be folks working rank-and-file,” Cooper says.

Cooper co-authored a report published in September exploring the importance of protecting job quality and workers’ collective bargaining rights in cannabis.

CCD last week announced it would hold a public hearing on Dec. 1 on new draft rules, including a provision that would require all cannabis businesses—except for microbusinesses—to enter into labor peace agreements as a condition of licensing. Those agreements establish that businesses won’t work against the unionization of their employees if the union agrees not to strike.

While 37 states have legalized recreational or medical cannabis, only six have language in their statutes that either encourage or require businesses to adopt labor peace agreements, according to the EPI report.

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