Interim Commission Chair Sarah Kim was named to the position on May 9 by State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg. Kim served as Treasurer Goldberg’s general counsel.

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission pledged, during its May 12 meeting, to take a closer look at license holders’ diversity plans after reporting that 65% of the state’s cannabis workforce is male, while about 70% is white.

The CCC’s interest in workforce diversity comes on the heels of an April Grown In report showing that only 15% of licenses are held by minority owners.

“I hate to describe it as confrontation, but I want to show this information, and I think it is worthy of talking about,” said CCC Executive Director Shawn Collins. “I like to say we’re holding a mirror up.”

Collins presented demographic data on the 20,000 approved or pending cannabis establishment agents. an “agent” is the state’s term for anyone who works in the cannabis industry.

“These are the folks that work inside the facilities, it could be any number of positions,” said Collins. “Any role that would be plant touching would register as an agent.”

There are a total of 20,277 agents, of which 7,269 are female and 12,863 are male.

The registered agents are also predominantly white, who account for 14,166 or 69.9% of the total. The next highest group were those who declined to answer, 1,852 or 9.1%, followed by 1,688 or 8.3% who identified as Latino and 1,313 or 6.5% were identified as Black.

“That would lead you to the conclusion that largely the workforce within this industry is comprised of white males,” said Collins.

According to Census data collected in 2020, white people make up 67.6% of the state’s total population, followed by 12.6% who identified as Latino and 6.5% who identified as Black. The data also shows that 51.1% of the population is female.

Collins noted that it would be more useful for the CCC to verify the total number of active agents, in order to capture the portion of the workforce that may be registered as agents through multiple employers.

“As a baseline it’s important that we capture this data, bearing in mind the agent registration process,” said Collins. “They may bounce from facility to facility, so there could be some duplication.”

Collins also said that the Commission could pull agent demographic data from earlier in the adult use program to detect if there have been any changing trends in employment that could indicate success from diversity plans.

“It is our job to make a safe and equitable industry and this is part of that. There needs to be some assessment both on our part and on the part of those in the industry as well,” said Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion.

The CCC requires all cannabis license applicants to submit a diversity plan to promote equity among minorities, women, veterans, people with disabilities and the LBGTQ community.

Separately, the applicant must also submit a plan to positively impact areas in the state that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.

Collins said that he hoped by focusing on the agent demographics the commission could better vet company plans when they apply for license renewals.

“A lot of applicants and entities have come in with very aspirational goals,” said Collins. “They have the opportunity on renewal to reassess their progress and reset or pivot their goals.”

Interim Commission Chair Sarah Kim reiterated that the commission’s approach toward company plans should not be combative.

“I do want to work with folks in the industry,” said Kim. “Are there things that we as a commission or agency can do to help spur ideas or ways that folks can increase their diversity hiring?”

The May 12 meeting also happened to mark the first meeting for the new, interim chair. By law, State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg is empowered to select the CCC’s chair. On May 9, Goldberg announced that she had selected her office’s general counsel, Kim, to fill the interim role.

This came one week after former chair Steven Hoffman resigned from his post about three months shy of the end of his term. 

The announcement of the appointment did not specifically note whether or not Kim would be considered for a permanent position as chair, but it did note that the Treasurer’s office was currently accepting applications for the job.

“I am so thrilled to be part of this agency’s work to ensure a safe and equitable industry even if it’s just for a short period of time,” Kim said at the opening of the May 12 meeting.

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...