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When it comes to social justice in the greater Boston area, private businesses and the volunteer sector don’t go alone. A public-private partnership is working to help people who have been adversely affected by the war on drugs gain a foothold in the cannabis industry.

Mass CultivatED was launched in 2019 and aims to help people who have been arrested or detained, have family members who have had the same experience, or live in an area where those experiences have had a disproportionate impact on the population. The program calls them “colleagues”.

“When I decided to get one of these licenses and start a cannabis business, one of the things I was aware of was the injustice and enforcement of these laws and cannabis,” says Dr. Karen Munkacy, Founder, President and CEO of Garden Remedies, a vertically integrated cannabis company in Massachusetts and a partner of Mass CultivatED. Many of those arrested and detained for cannabis are minorities or people who cannot afford expensive lawyers, she adds.

Pauline Quirion, director of the CORI and Re-entry Project at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), another partner, says companies and organizations are declaring “black lives matter” and making statements in support of racial equality. Mass CultivatED goes one step further, she adds. “These are people who are not really just talking about racial equality, they are doing something, they are giving people real opportunities for employment and also a career, which is really life changing because when you think of the war on drugs, it has the greatest influence on color communities. “

Mass CultivatED was founded by the Massachusetts State Rep. Chynah Tyler (D), which looks after the predominantly minority and low-income 7th district of Suffolk. In building Mass CultivatED, Tyler’s former chief of staff Ryan Dominguez, now the acting Executive Director of the program, coordinated the committees with institutional partners and partners of the Founder’s Circle.

“We initially considered developing an educational program at a local community college to provide training for people in the district who could learn a little about cannabis, about the failed war on drugs and the laws that existed here Massachusetts, ”remembers Dominguez, referring to the laws and regulations for medical and adult individuals. This resulted in a partnership to offer courses at Roxbury Community College (RCC).

The team at Mass CultivatED also realized that legal services would be paramount and were connected with legal service providers such as GBLS and civil rights lawyers. “We started talking to them about offering some upfront legal services to help seal and delete records for people who move out of the criminal justice system and then try to find work,” said Dominguez.

Other institutional partners include the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts (ULEM), the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges (MACC), Quality Control Analytics, and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office.

Mass CultivatED’s nine partners in the cannabis industry are Garden Remedies, Sira Naturals, NETA, Trulieve, MedMen, Verilife / Pharmacann, Berkshire Roots, Central Ave. and gage.

The first class

Mass CultivatED and its partners interviewed people from Greater Boston and selected seven fellows for their first cohort. During Orientation Week, the week of Labor Day immediately after the holidays, fellows will take part in activities such as training on responsible salespeople and learning about the services of the RCC and ULEM. You will then go through the program in the fall and graduate in December 2020.

The first month of the grant will consist of training on the industry, says Dominguez. Mass CultivatED provides laptops for each colleague and WiFi for those who do not have it. (Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, training by RCC, training on personnel development by ULEM and individual consultations with legal service providers will all be online.)

After the first month, seven of the vertically integrated partners in the cannabis industry will train a fellow for eight weeks and pay them $ 18 an hour. Many of the fellows will train for four weeks in a pharmacy and four weeks in a cultivation facility, says Dominguez; However, he says the program allowed some flexibility to suit the interests of companies and fellows. For example, the Garden Remedies Fellow has expressed an interest in cultivation, says Munkacy, and will spend much of the fall learning these ropes.

Garden Remedies previously offered a 14-week Catalyst mentoring program with the law firm Smith, Costello & Crawford. Munkacy says she first heard about Mass CultivatED from Jay Youmans, a board member of Mass CultivatED and a director at Smith, Costello & Crawford.

Garden Remedies has so far donated $ 25,000 to Mass CultivatED and has been involved in designing much of the curriculum for the program, Munkacy says. The company, founded in 2013, employs 150 people; 20,000 square meters of roofing area; an 81,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on the same site that is currently being expanded; and three medical storefronts, two of which also have adult sales.

“There will be a general overview of the industry, but the goal of it [program] is to train someone to emerge from this program with either a well paying job and / or the ability to start their own business in the industry, ”says Munkacy.

In addition to being able to work with an individual or a group of employees on a daily basis, the Fellows also have the opportunity to meet with C-Suite executives, says Dominguez.

Mass CultivatED will also support its fellows, he says. “Some of the other major supports we will be providing them are transportation costs to and from facilities, childcare for some of our fellows who may need it, and things like financial education and help with lending. ”

Removal of barriers to entry

In Massachusetts, as in other states, criminal charges and convictions can limit people’s career prospects. But over the years, voters and the government have worked to improve justice for people who possess cannabis. Eight years before Question 4 was passed in 2016 to legalize adult cannabis, residents voted in favor of a decriminalization measure punishing possession of less than an ounce of cannabis with a $ 100 fine. In 2018, Massachusetts legislature passed an erasure law that allows people to seal their records for certain marijuana cases involving possession of less than two ounces.

Since GBLS, the CORI and re-entry project in 2008, Quirion and her colleagues have been providing legal services in the greater Boston area with a focus on the Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods. Her work includes sealing and deleting records from the Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) database.

“It is more beneficial to delete, but the reasons for deletion are much more limited than the reasons for sealing records,” Quirion says. “There are two ways to seal records in Massachusetts. When they’re old enough, you can use an administrative process where you submit a form and have it sealed. it’s seven years for a felony and three years for an offense. ”The other method is to see a judge who Quirion says will determine whether the sealing of records is“ in the interests of justice ”.

An entry in CORI does not always refer to a conviction, but can be a court date that did not result in a conviction. A record can’t just affect someone’s job opportunities, Quirion says. Many parents cannot accompany their children on school trips or attend ball games. “It occurs in every aspect of life,” she says. “If you want to volunteer in a soup kitchen in your church or wherever it is, it will show up.”

GBLS provides pro bono legal services to Mass CultivatED scholarship holders and is also responsible for some individuals entering first grade. “I did some interviews and we all got copies of their materials and then we nominated some of our clients who will actually be in this first class,” Quirion says.

She also commends Tyler for introducing a bill to expand the exclusion criteria. “For many customers, the practical obstacle we encountered when the police stop people before it is decriminalized is [if] they had things in their pockets, even if they were minor, but they would also charge them for distribution, ”Quirion says. “If you had two small bags, and even if it is a decriminalized amount, your criminal record will not only show the charge of possession but also the distribution fee.”

Quirion says she hopes lawmakers will expand the erasure law to cover fees arising from ownership, such as distribution, in the 2020 or 2021 legislature.

2020 foresight

After graduating from Mass CultivatED’s first class in December, Dominguez says the program will offer another class in the fall of 2021. The plan is to offer education through Massachusetts Community Colleges on the MACC network. The program can possibly also be extended to the spring and summer semesters.

“The more people we can have on board, the better,” he says. “There are a lot of people who have been negatively affected by the war on drugs, and I know that there is a lot of interest from people who have applied and maybe just didn’t get into this cohort that I would like to place immediately.” some … companies possible if we get them. “

Munkacy says the program will continue to grow to “increase the number of people we train through this program, show that it is a cost-effective program to run nationwide and then hopefully run nationwide at some point. There is a lot of interest and support right now to fight social injustice. “