CCC commissioner presses to add Lawrence as disproportionately impacted area

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – There are parts of 29 municipalities that the Cannabis Control Commission considers to have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition, but the city with the largest Hispanic/Latinx population, Lawrence, is not among them.

Commissioner Nurys Camargo is hoping to change that, presenting the commission on Friday with a memo outlining the reasons it should “take this brave and bold step in repairing the damage done to individuals and a community most impacted” by adding Lawrence to the official list of disproportionately impacted areas (DIA).

“The omission of a city of Lawrence for the past four years has created inequities in our programming and in our mission. It is imperative that we make an exception to the overall process before it’s too late for one of the most disproportionately harmed communities by the War on Drugs in Massachusetts,” she said. “And honestly, I think everyone here agrees [Lawrence] would fall in the top tier of any list, and should have been added to the list, the first list, four years ago.”

The Merrimack Valley city has the highest Hispanic/Latinx population in the state (making up 82 percent of the city’s population and 8.2 percent of the state’s Hispanic/Latinx residents), its residents have a median income of $44,618, and it releases the ninth-most inmates back into its community, the commissioner said.

But Lawrence was not designated as an area of disproportionate impact when the CCC first made the list in 2018 “due to limited data” and a March 2021 study that remains under CCC review similarly left Lawrence off its list for the same reason, Camargo said. She said similar data limitations existed for Boston, but that CCC officials actively reached out to Boston officials “to ensure Boston’s consideration.”

“Lawrence’s omission from the DIA list and the absence of intentional municipal outreach to resolve the noted data limitations has left a significant eligibility gap in the Commonwealth’s largest Hispanic/Latinx community,” Camargo wrote. “The eligibility gap in Lawrence risks widening inequalities in the legal cannabis industry and participation in our Social Equity Program for the Hispanic/Latinx community.”

Being added to the DIA list would benefit Lawrence and its residents in two main ways. To be eligible for the CCC’s Social Equity Program, an applicant must meet two of four criteria, one of which is living in a DIA for five of the last 10 years. If Lawrence were added to the CCC’s list, residents who currently only meet one of the program’s requirements would become eligible for free technical assistance and training.

All marijuana establishment applicants are asked to present the CCC with a plan for helping disproportionately impacted communities and many companies propose making donations to community organizations in those areas. Camargo noted to reporters after the CCC meeting Friday that one licensee reviewed during the meeting was going to donate $100,000 to community groups.

“Lawrence is missing out on resources back to their city, to the nonprofit organizations,” she said.

The CCC’s current list of DIAs includes some or all neighborhoods in Abington, Amherst, Boston, Braintree, Brockton, Chelsea, Fall River, Fitchburg, Greenfield, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lowell, Lynn, Mansfield, Monson, New Bedford, North Adams, Pittsfield, Quincy, Randolph, Revere, Southbridge, Spencer, Springfield, Taunton, Walpole, Wareham, West Springfield, and Worcester.

After about 45 minutes of discussion and debate Friday, the commission voted 4-1 to table the matter until its Oct. 14 meeting and to ask Lawrence officials to provide the CCC with some of the data that was not captured in earlier reports in the meantime. Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion was the lone dissenting vote.

Commissioner Kimberly Roy, the newest member of the CCC, asked for the one-month delay and pointed out that the March report that’s still under review included a list of 36 areas that could be considered for DIA status.

“There were 36 communities in this [disproportionate impact] report that we have punted on that have high DI scores,” Roy said. “So, when asking this regulatory body to make an exception for one community when there are 36 that have been sitting in limbo for six months, I don’t know if that is the best process.”

Commissioner Bruce Stebbins pointed out that the March report included a line indicating that while the researcher did not have the necessary data to include Lawrence on its list “based on the demographics and economics of Lawrence, though, it is highly likely the city would rank high on the DI score if all data were available.”

After the meeting, Camargo said she became comfortable with the one-month delay after hearing the perspectives of her fellow commissioners. Executive Director Shawn Collins had said the more broad review of the March report and DIA list is almost certain to extend into 2022.

“It allows me to work with the city of Lawrence, to get some data, to get some proxy data,” she said. “We all know Lawrence should be on the list. We all know it should have been there four years ago.”

Hoffman said the issue with Lawrence’s data reporting became apparent “pretty early on in the process” of determining areas of disproportionate impact. He said the CCC agreed on a methodology and data sources with the contractor hired to conduct the initial study.

“During the course of his work, we recognized that some communities did not contribute to the data sources that we agreed we would rely on,” the chairman said. “And at least two of those, there might be more, one was Boston, one was Lawrence. We reached out to both those communities. It took work. We got data from Boston, we did not get data from Lawrence.”

Hoffman added, “I know that Lawrence should, by all criteria, be part of this. On the other hand, I don’t think we can just be arbitrary and say because we believe Lawrence should be part of it, they should be part of it. We need to have some objective data and I think that’s what we’re continuing to try to accomplish.”

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