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On 4/20, Boston’s acting mayor turns to marijuana industry for campaign cash

Cannabis business licensing ordinance among Janey’s signature accomplishments on City Council

Former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh hands a pen to then-City Councilor Kim Janey after signing the new marijuana licensing ordinance she drafted at City Hall in 2019.
Former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh hands a pen to then-City Councilor Kim Janey after signing the new marijuana licensing ordinance she drafted at City Hall in 2019.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

As Acting Mayor Kim Janey launches a campaign to stay in the City Hall corner office she inherited upon Marty Walsh’s departure, she is turning to a funding source her predecessor eschewed: the city’s fast-growing marijuana industry.

Janey, who as a city councilor spearheaded an overhaul of Boston’s system for licensing cannabis businesses, will mark Tuesday’s traditional “4/20″ stoner holiday by holding a virtual, marijuana-themed campaign fundraiser.

The evening Zoom event features a who’s who of the local pot sector, including marijuana licensing attorney and former city councilor Mike Ross, former state Cannabis Control Commission member Shaleen Title, former city official and current Boston dispensary owner Tomas Gonzalez, Garden Remedies founder Dr. Karen Munkacy, executives from the Rooted in Roxbury shop planned in Nubian Square, and Hempest founder Jon Napoli.

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Suggested contributions range from $150 for “grassroots”-level supporters to $5,000, according to a widely circulated invitation.

With several other mayoral hopefuls outpacing her fundraising in the early going, Janey is hoping to catch up in part by leveraging her role as the primary author of the city’s cannabis licensing system — one of the main accomplishments of her tenure on the council, which began in 2018.

In a brief interview, she called the legislation “historic” and said it demonstrated the values she will follow as mayor.

“In every single industry and everything we do, we must ensure there is equity, transparency, and accountability,” Janey said. “I’m happy to have the support of anyone who is appreciative of the work I’ve done thus far, and hope to keep building momentum in terms of fundraising.”

The licensing ordinance that Janey proposed in 2019 ended a much-criticized, closed-door selection process and replaced it with a new agency dubbed the Boston Cannabis Board, a panel of five appointed members who evaluate and vote on pot permit applications during public meetings. The policy also gives strong priority to “equity” applicants — local residents from neighborhoods and communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs — over out-of-state corporate operators.

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More recently, Janey announced that Boston is seeking to provide $675,000 in city funding to a vendor or vendors who will offer technical training and other assistance to help equity applicants get started in the heavily regulated industry.

Observers said Janey’s decision to emphasize her cannabis record reflects the city’s increasingly progressive leanings and the massive shift in voter attitudes about the drug over the past decade. In 2016, more than 60 percent of Boston voters backed legalization; more recent polling has consistently found that nearly 70 percent of Americans support legalization, while fewer than 10 percent want the drug to remain illegal for both medical and recreational purposes.

Yet stubborn cultural stigmas have prompted many politicians to keep their distance from the issue and the legal cannabis business. That calculus is rapidly changing, however, especially for progressives whose policy positions make them unlikely to attract significant donations from more traditional and established industries.

Walsh, for his part, was an outspoken opponent of the 2016 legalization ballot initiative in Massachusetts, citing his own recovery from substance use disorder. After the measure passed, he recast himself as a dutiful implementer of voters’ wishes but never fully embraced the sector. In 2019, Walsh returned a smattering of donations from local marijuana companies and later issued a conflict-of-interest policy banning city employees from applying for pot permits in Boston.

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Title, the former state regulator and a longtime marijuana activist, said it was refreshing to see a new generation of elected officials such as Janey lend their support not merely to legalization but to new licensing policies for the industry.

“Mayor Janey is proudly expressing her support of small and Black-owned businesses, just like Boston residents do, and backing that up with concrete policy,” Title said. “Voters want that kind of boldness and commitment, and at this point I don’t think they’ll settle for anything less.”



Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.