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Legalization Isn’t Enough: 10 Things Every New Cannabis Law Must Have

April 2, 2019
(greyj/iStock, Leafly)
Cannabis legalization has hit a turning point. No longer are the most exciting conversations about whether to legalize; today they’re about how best to go about it. As legal cannabis evolves from an abstract concept to a fully fleshed-out policy, we have complicated questions to answer.

Thankfully, we’re not starting from scratch. Every legal-cannabis state has offered important lessons about how seemingly small regulatory details can play a big role in shaping the industry, for better or worse. Sometimes tedious provisions around taxes or licensing can make lasting impacts on what the market looks like—or even whether that market is allowed to exist. Last month we saw legalization measures in New York and New Jersey falter due to disagreement over taxation, licensing, and equity details.


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Few have seen these issues from as many angles as Shaleen Title, one of five members of the Cannabis Control Commission in Massachusetts. As an attorney and entrepreneur, Title launched a women-led cannabis staffing agency and provided regulatory expertise for cannabis businesses. She also co-authored Question 4, the ballot initiative that legalized adult-use cannabis in Massachusetts. Along the way, she’s been a steady voice for a fair, equitable industry that addresses the drug war’s past harms, which fell disproportionately on people of color.

“Don't get boxed into outdated pro vs. anti-pot.”
Shaleen Title, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission

Recently, Title posted a Twitter thread laying out her “top 10 must-haves for any state cannabis legalization bill.” It’s a best-practices list aimed at ensuring equity and accountability. She’s been sharing versions of the list with officials in neighboring states, most recently Connecticut. “I rewrite these every time I give a speech in another state,” she said, “because every day I learn more and they evolve.”

Title has allowed Leafly to publish an edited version of the list, which she offers with this disclaimer: “These are my subjective opinions based on experience as both an activist and regulator, offered in good faith for those trying to keep improving on our current progress. As more states learn more lessons and share them, we will all keep refining our knowledge.”


Massachusetts Names Legalization Advocate Shaleen Title to Commission

10 Must-Haves in Any Cannabis Legalization Bill

1. Allow homegrow. Let consumers grow a limited number of their own plants at home and gift a limited amount to other adults. In Massachusetts, adults can grow up to six plants per person, with a maximum of 12 per residence (see law for details), and can give away up to an ounce. This serves as a check on monopolies, delays to store openings, and more.


How to build a simple home cannabis garden for $100, $500, & $1,000

2. Automatic expungement for cannabis convictions—in the same law at the same time as legalization. Period.

3. Diverse representation in regulation. Ensure as a non-negotiable, never-expiring statutory requirement that people from disproportionately harmed communities are represented at the very top of the regulating agency. (Yes, there are plenty who are qualified.)

4. Transparency in regulation. Ensure that the regulating agency is diverse, independent, subject to full transparency, and appointed by different people. This is something I’m incredibly proud of in Massachusetts, and I recommend adopting it. Brand new agencies take time and resources to start up, but it’s worth it.


How Activists Turned a Bad Massachusetts Bill Into a Great Law

5. Dedicated tax revenue. Don’t allow legislators to divert cannabis tax revenue. Demand that it be reinvested into disproportionately harmed communities. Give this measure teeth; don’t let that revenue be “subject to appropriation,” and don’t require bureaucratic application processes that only privileged communities will be able to tap into.

Sidenote: The Minority Cannabis Business Association model state bill, which I worked on before becoming a commissioner, creates an Office of Justice Reinvestment to fairly distribute such revenue. You can find the model bill on the MCBA website.

6. (a) Establish equity assistance programs. Separate from that reinvestment, invest a specific percentage of tax revenue into technical assistance, hiring programs, and interest-free loans for disproportionately affected communities with a funding mechanism for initial programming and outreach as soon as the law passes.

6. (b) Deadlines must be met. It is very important that you hold the agency or agencies in charge to specified deadlines. Impose consequences for missing those deadlines. I think every existing equity program thus far, including the one I designed, underestimated the need for immediate outreach and education.

7. Limit licenses and require diversity goals. Require state regulators and local governments to ensure diversity in the industry at ownership and employee levels, with goals, measurement, and accountability for the regulators (it may be best for them to design their own goals). Impose and enforce limits on the number of licenses a single entity can control. (In Massachusetts, an entity can control up to three of each license type.)


How can Black people get rich off cannabis, too?

8. Tie tax revenue to met mandates. Make this a statutory requirement: Tax revenue flows only to municipalities that have honored these mandates. Leave it up to the municipalities to figure out how to make their local laws and processes inclusive to disproportionately harmed communities before receiving any local taxes.

My recommendation to anyone seeking an equitable cannabis program would be to not compromise an inch on this one. Doing so could easily undermine the rest of your work. There are good and bad local examples throughout Massachusetts and California.

9. License holders must contribute to government-set goals. Require every licensed cannabis business to contribute to these goals in addition to but not instead of the government’s role. One option is to require diversity plans and positive impact plans as requirements for licensure and renewal, as in Massachusetts, but there are many ways to accomplish this.


Los Angeles to Erase 50,000 Criminal Cannabis Convictions

10. Demand regular data reporting. Require the regulating agency to collect data on each of these items, report the data regularly, and take remedial measures when the data is not satisfactory. Give the regulating agency broad flexibility and authority to accomplish this.

Ben Adlin's Bio Image

Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

View Ben Adlin's articles

  • viper643

    #5 and/or #8 should also have no sharing of tax revenue with communities or jurisdictions that opt out of allowing dispensaries.

  • Kenny Hotz

    Bullshit. Weather you agree if possessing cannabis should be a crime or not, it is still or was still a crime. You don’t reward people who commit crimes. If rape becomes legal tomorrow you don’t let rapist out of jail and demand that they be given compensation for the crimes that they committed. Leafly won’t let me speak and will ban any thought that doesn’t match anyway.

    • zivver

      You must be joking, right? Are you really trying to equate breaking absurd oppressive laws like cannabis laws to a violent crime like rape? Just because something is a law it doesn’t make it right. Laws can violate human rights which in my opinion, putting someone in a cage for using a plant is a human rights violation. Any police officer, judge, prosecutor and politician who has enforced cannabis laws are human trash.

      • Kenny Hotz

        Just a plant argument huh? Water hemlock. You should have no problem taking this plant I hand you and no one should be mad at me for giving it to you. It’s just a plant after all. Dumbest argument ever.

        I am all for legal cannabis and all drugs honestly. It is our choice to decide what we put in our bodies, not the governments.

        Absurd and oppressive laws. Well absurd is an opinion so it doesn’t matter. All laws are oppressive by design. Those who break laws are in the minority and therefore oppressed. You choose to see a color is the only difference. Everyone is oppressed by this outdated law, not blacks, brown people or white people.

        Whack jobs need to see race in everything while claiming everyone else is a racist.

        • readfirstaskquestionslast

          All laws are not oppressive by design. It is not oppressive to ANYONE to outlaw child rape for an example.

          • Kenny Hotz

            So the government is correct in outlawing rape but not drugs? How do you determine the motive of each government law? I choose not to define each law. There are over 300000 laws and enforceable regulations just at the federal level and we on average break 3 a day without even knowing it. The current system of laws are oppressive. I will admit I should have phrased it differently. The all knowing government can put just about anyone in jail while we are just living our lives, not raping people or growing medicine.

          • readfirstaskquestionslast

            Yes, there is a HUGE difference in children being raped and the use or distribution of any drug. It’s silly to say just because someone broke a law that they did something wrong. Slavery was legal at one point, but should the slaves had been punished for escaping since that was illegal? You’re not making sense here.

          • Kenny Hotz

            When did I say because someone broke a law that they did something wrong? This is you pushing me to bring morals into it again. I only said they broke a law……. You say it is immoral to rape and not immoral to distribute drugs to children(you said distribute, those drugs make it to kids at some point if not directly).

            The slave thing makes no sense. Why would a slave that made it to the north where it wasnt legal to have slaves be punished? I dont get punished for smoking a join in CO and going to an illegal state or the other way around……..How about the modern day slaves? Yes if an inmate escapes jail, they should be punished.

          • Warren Clark

            Another person equating rape with cannabis. Fml.

    • dhectorg

      Kenny, you are obviously still clueless on this issue. The main point of this list is to state that Cannabis never should have been prohibited and the fact that it is being legalized across the country now, with few (if any) negative effects, is the proof of that. Cannabis prohibition has disproportionately harmed poor minority communities and those communities must benefit FIRST from its legalization, period. But as is expected in the corporate cronyism world of the USA, it’s mostly larger national companies that are benefiting thus far. America needs to start righting the many wrongs it has inflicted upon various groups of people throughout its history and this would merely be a modest start. Victims of a corrupt and racist justice system are OWED restitution. If you still don’t understand this, you simply don’t have an adequate understanding of the unjust history of law enforcement around cannabis prohibition. And your comparison of cannabis possession to rape (seriously?!) is absurd on its face. You should be embarrassed for even articulating such ignorance.

      • Kenny Hotz

        “The main point of this list is to state that Cannabis never should have been prohibited and the fact that it is being legalized across the country now, with few (if any) negative effects, is the proof of that.”

        No, the main point is not above. I agree 100% with what you said above.

        The main point is what you wrote about after. Treating those who broke the law disproportionately better than the next person who didn’t.

        I really don’t care why the law to make it a crime was made. Law enforcement agencies are not out to get black people over whites. If you break the law you are held accountable. If you have drugs on you and are smoking a joint while speeding, you are just as guilty as the white guy doing it. Blacks will never be free until they stop playing victims and liberal retards stop pretending that black inner city violence from gangs and drug dealing is an illusion.

        “America needs to start righting the many wrongs it has inflicted upon various groups of people throughout its history”

        No. I had nothing to do with slavery. No black person alive had anything to do with slavery. It us time to come together as a nation and go forward as one. Funny how other countries who had slavery (thanks to black Africans selling there own people) have moved past this. The USA(British north America) had 5% of the total slaves.

        Stop being self proclaimed victims of everything. Be adults and live your lives. Nobody owes you anything so stop the boohoo tears. Americans who are homeless have it better than most of the worlds population. Work your ass off to make life better for your kids and stop expecting a handout from every other tax paying citizen.

        • readfirstaskquestionslast

          shut up about slavery. black people are still affected by racism and your denial of the truth WHICH IS SUPPORTED BY HARD FACTS AND STATS, is racist on its own.

          • Kenny Hotz

            Show those hard facts and stats. You cant because you think denial of racism is is racist.

          • readfirstaskquestionslast

            Please take your extreme privilege elsewhere, you are uneducated on the topic and flat out don’t know what you’re talking about. Thank you.

    • justadbeer

      We’re not talking about murder here. You may want to try comparing apples-to-apples next time. Getting convicted because you had a J in your pocket is akin to a J-walking offense. Each case should be based on it’s own merits. If you were busted selling to kids in a school yard, you should be held accountable. You see the difference there Skippy? Nobody asked for compensation. Just expungement for something that is no longer a crime.

      • Kenny Hotz

        No we aren’t talking about murder, I said rape. But since you brought it up, let’s call it a j walking offense even though it isn’t apples to apples it has the same outcome.

        If minorities commit more j walking offense’s and then it is made legal to cross the road wherever you want, should those who broke the law be given an advantage just because they broke the law?

        You see there skippy? You obviously didn’t read the article or you couldn’t say it isn’t about compensation. It literally says minorities should be given a leg up in the industry over… well evil white people.

        Wipe the records for possession types of crimes? I am all for it. Let people out who have the same type of offenses too.

        Now let’s do apples to apples. Heroin and MJ. Both illegal schedule 1 drugs. I am for the legalization of all drugs. People should choose, not the government. So if heroin becomes legal tomorrow should white people get bonus points in the new industry because heroin is a mostly white drug problem. No, every one should be treated equally. Equality… It is what is asked for on face value but never what is in the fine print. Women don’t want to sign up for the draft, liberals don’t want everyone to equally pay taxes, minorities want affirmative action… just not in sports where blacks far outnumber others. 60-70% white people in the NBA by force? Sharpton and Jackson would be happy with that?

        Have a nice day Skippy. Please try and read the assigned homework before playing the moral superior person.

        • readfirstaskquestionslast

          You’re living in a fantasy world which is not supported by any facts, which is why no one agrees with ANYTHING you are saying. You should wake up.

    • readfirstaskquestionslast

      You have clearly confused morality with legality. Breaking the law isn’t necessarily breaking a moral code. And if that’s the case, if the government outlawed being a good Christian, by your standards it would be immoral. such a weird thought process.

      • Kenny Hotz

        Funny, I never said immoral. How could you judge my thought process and say its weird when you use your words as my thoughts?

        I am 100% for legal MJ. I am not for treating criminals as above someone who didn’t commit a crime. You can’t unjustly target minorities if they aren’t committing crimes.

        How does a government enforce the law of being a good Christian? I mean how do they determine who has broken the law? Finding someone who breaks the law of illegal MJ, just like rape, is done from scientific evidence such as physical evidence like the bag of weed or DNA from the victim. Is there a scientific method of showing someone is good? Or a Christian?

        • readfirstaskquestionslast

          All you did was reaffirm my original statement.

          You think the moment something becomes a “crime” which is only because a group of people decided it to be is when it is wrong. Crime is not innately bad, it is just LEGALLY prohibited behavior. That is such a silly antiquated system of thinking. If one group of people are practically NEVER charged or prosecuted for using cannabis, it is EFFECTIVELY legal for them, but since other groups are targeted, it isn’t for them. You don’t unjustly punish one group of people for a “crime” they were all committing.

          I could outlaw hugging, it doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, it may be immoral TO make it a crime. You are also TAKING off with the term criminal as if “crime” is what determines one’s character or if a situation is immoral or not. You are also talking to someone with a J.D. so my experience with the law and morality is a lot more clear. Morality simply doesn’t always line up with the law. If it did, Fate Winslow, (a man arrested for selling 20 dollars worth of cannabis to an undercover cop) would not have been sentenced to LIFE in prison with hard labor, JUST for that one charge.

          And what is your point of asking if there is scientific method for proving someone is good? Are you suggesting that committing the crime makes them bad? Why are you comparing scientific evidence of cannabis to the scientific evidence of rape? What does proving if someone had cannabis have anything to do whether or not it’s immoral?

          • Kenny Hotz

            Oh a longer reply about morality. You are the one putting morality into it, not me so stop acting like I am. A lot of words wasted by you.

            Please show your work. Show the last 10 years where one group of people is “EFFECTIVELY” legal to smoke pot riding down the street in there car, getting pulled over and let go because they have less/more pigmentation in there skin than the next. Thats where this who science thing matter and not just your feelings. You need to be able to prove what you claim.

            I watch live pd every weekend and there seems to be only a few things that sets people apart on if they get a ticket, go to jail or get off with a warning when it comes to MJ. Attitude, respect and honesty. Regardless of color, the person who says, yeah i got a dime bag in the center console is let off with a warning more often than not. The person who tries to hide it will get a ticket and the ones who posses more than the misdemeanor offense limit go to jail, not just the darker ones. A lot of people get pulled over on live pd with cannabis too, a lot! White people must some how convince the judge or the cops drops the charges once the show is over I guess. They showed them their white privilege card. I keep asking for mine but I dont ever get it. I must not be white enough.

            “And what is your point of asking if there is scientific method for proving someone is good?” Because you cant prove scientifically if someone is “good” or not.

            “Are you suggesting that committing the crime makes them bad?” I have only suggested that committing crime is illegal…

            “Why are you comparing scientific evidence of cannabis to the scientific evidence of rape?” Because both can be proven in a court of law to be a crime………Something the court really likes is actual physical evidence like DNA or a physical substance both proven by science to be what it is claimed to be, the MJ or the rapist DNA.

            “What does proving if someone had cannabis have anything to do whether or not it’s immoral?” I am not sure? You are the one who keeps bringing up immoral. I have no problem with just about ever law on the books being thrown away short of the ones that impact another person. Not wearing my seat belt is a crime and I get tickets all the time for it even though i tell them I am white.

          • readfirstaskquestionslast

            YOU put morality into by saying that crime is innately wrong.

          • readfirstaskquestionslast

            And you saying that you’re not mentioning morality is crazy. You’re discussing morality by making something innately wrong with crime. You are considering crime immoral if you think that people shouldn’t be freed for cannabis related crimes post legalization. It’s not a math problem we’re discussing, if you are saying there is something wrong with people being freed, you think that it’s wrong. Denying that’s what you’re actually saying is just a play on semantics.

          • Kenny Hotz

            I am saying crime is illegal, nothing else. If a crime then becomes legal, why not open those jail cells in our over crowded prisons? That is a math problem……

          • readfirstaskquestionslast

            Bringing up live PD is an actual joke btw. Please read national statistics and not a small sample size of a few people getting arrested. You clearly have no idea how much more likely it is for a POC to be arrested and charged with a cannabis related crime. You are literally not facing the facts.

          • Kenny Hotz

            Show them to me. You claim it, show it.

        • readfirstaskquestionslast

          Let’s say the government used a criteria for being a good christian.

          1. Goes to Church every Sunday
          2. Preaches the Gospel 3 days a week
          3. Enroll children in Sunday school

          By YOUR OWN standards if someone did these things, they’d be a criminal and thus shouldn’t be “rewarded” or freed if the law changes.

          That is silly.

          • Kenny Hotz

            “1. Goes to Church every Sunday
            2. Preaches the Gospel 3 days a week
            3. Enroll children in Sunday school”

            There is no science behind this. I know people who fit this description who are not good Christians..

            No, by the governments standards they would be a criminal, not mine. I don’t make law or enforce it. We have 2 branches of government that do that. My laws only go as far as my personal property.

            And they shouldn’t be rewarded for breaking the law, good or bad law, right or wrong. Freedom, yes they should, just as possession crimes should be repealed for everyone if the law were changed and I agree with letting people out of jail for those minor crimes. .

    • Warren Clark

      Who pissed in your cherrios? It should never have been a crime, no charge should ever exist.

    • Warren Clark

      I cannot believe you are equating rape with cannabis.

  • Kenny Hotz

    10th amendment yes. Love it. What does it have to do with my comment? I know the left hates when a red state bans abortion but says how the feds should stay out of the states business when it comes to pot. Still has nothing to do with my statements.

  • Kenny Hotz

    It isnt privilege. i just dont live my life through race like you do. I treat people equally and obviously you dont wish to do so. You toss up stats showing blacks are arrested almost 4 times as much but that doesnt show anything except black are caught possessing 4 times more often. Show the racism. Show that white people are being let off the hook because you or someone claimed that its basically legal for whites but not blacks. Could you bring a more biased study than the ACLU? Maybe one from the white hate groups like the NAACP. Equal use doesnt mean equal exposure, meaning going out in public with it. I dont!!! and i have had my car sniffed and searched, but nothing is there because I am not stupid enough to carry it. A lot has changed even since 2010. Your study is outdated because most state are decriminalized,legal or medical with a ticket or warning being common. I am uneducated but you are living in the past. You toss out live footage of police interacting with the world, perhaps you should look to the news and see manufactured hate crime being debunked over and over again. There is so much non racist acts going on that blacks now have to fake “hate crimes”. Keep living in your racist world while I continue to move ahead of it and keep it iin the past where it belongs. You see race more than me but somehow I am the racist? Liberal logic. Keep that black man down so you get his vote while accomplishing nothing for him.

  • Kenny Hotz

    I am not googling it. You make a claim, it is on you to prove it. Thats just how conversation works.

    50 jets crashed into the sea last night. Its now a fact in your yes because I spoke it. You need to go disprove it be searching google. I have no obligation to prove myself. This is why CNN and MSNBC can run with Russia stories for 2 years with zero proof. You guys are idiots.

  • Kenny Hotz

    I still have yet to say anything except people have committed a crime. You still try to put words in my mouth. I dont say who should be in prison. We have a branch of government who does that. My personal beliefs have nothing to do with the law. If I think it is moral and good and ok to kill another person, that doesnt make the law any different. I didnt say they should be in prison and I didnt say what they did was wrong, only illegal. You obviously really want me to have a moral standing on a law I didnt create or have anything to do with just so you can make me to blame for it. Sorry, i had nothing to do with the past, I only can influence the future.

  • Kenny Hotz

    Now i will go away. You just keep tossing things on me to defend without judgement for your own stupid words. You are with people dealing drugs to kids and think its racist to think something isnt racist. You make claims and dont back them up with science. Sorry an ACLU study isnt science, it is quite biased like scary climate change that we were suppose to be dead from by now. Stay in your echo chamber because people will agree with you here. Keep living in the past and make sure to add as many new genders as you can without science on your side lol. Stupid liberals.

  • Kenny Hotz

    I didnt realize arrests = racism in injustice. I guess we should look at crime as a whole then. Murder in 2017. Of the 9468 murders arrests in the US, 53.5% were black…. Racism, injustice!!! Or are black committing more murders.This is equal to it basically being legal for whites to kill right? 2002 black were arrested 8.55 times more than white people for assault, obviously because cops just dont go after white people. White people just get to do whatever they want in this world. It isnt possible that blacks commit more crime, no it is white who are just getting away with more is all even though the liberal cities and states are included in this. I guess it is only Red states that go after blacks and bring those numbers down for them? You ask me to open my eyes, when are you going to open yours. Our inner cities arent becoming more friendly by the day. There is a police presence because of the violence of blacks not because of the white commuters coming into work.Your arguments are worthless as is your view on the world.

  • Dharma Galaxy

    Alternatively, reclassify cannabis as an agricultural product and get rid of ALL pot specific laws and regulations. Driving can be handled under existing driving to endanger laws.

  • Warren Clark

    Nope, too much government. You cannot trust the man to manage your money. Next.

  • breh

    Affirmative action is always racist. If you’re too stupid to understand this obvious fact then there’s no discussion to be had. But stupidity and entitlement are plagues nowadays anyway so at least you can take comfort in knowing you’re not the only ignorant, hypocritical, entitled moron out there.

  • Ivan van Ogre

    This is the way we should run the country.