MONTPELIER – Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board has been meeting for several weeks, and along with the task of creating and regulating a retail market, the board is figuring out how to address issues of racial equity in the emerging industry.
The board is focused on better representation in ownership and employment, well as using tax revenue from retail sales to further address inequities. On Thursday, Nader Hashim, a former state lawmaker, offered his perspective.
“I was a state trooper for seven and a half years. I was a drug recognition expert during that time, and part way through my career, I started really seeing the impact of the war on drugs on people, and started seeing how those disparities were playing out,” Hashim said.
The board is also taking advice from neighboring Massachusetts. Shaleen Title, the first commissioner of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Board, aid the most important thing is to emphasize equity from the beginning.
“Anything you can do to make sure it’s the equity businesses that open first, even if that takes longer, is really going to help,” Title said. “It’s a matter of a few months, and a matter of future generations that are counting on us.”
The board is considering who should benefit most from an equity-based approach, including those arrested for possession of cannabis, those in communities that’ve been disproportionately affected by drug laws, and those confronting inequities that aren’t associated with cannabis.
In other states, equity programs have prioritized people who have lived there longer, but Vermont’s Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis said that’s not very beneficial.
“Tenure in this state is not synonymous or interchangeable with who cares about this state or who has ties to the community,” Davis said. “I’ve known a lot of people who have come to be part of Vermont’s community who have done more for their towns and communities than some people who have been here their whole lives.”
Retail cannabis stores will open in Vermont as soon as October of next year. The board will have recommendations on how to get this industry going ready for Vermont lawmakers by the beginning of next year’s legislative session.