Horizontal Governance: Boston’s bumpy road to cannabis shops

Horizontal Governance: More transparency and equity, less corruption

The Boston City Council leveraged the concept of Horizontal Governance when it named a Cannabis Board. While the board is advisory only, it will improve equity and transparency in the mayor’s choices of winners and losers in the city’s recreational-cannabis rollout.

Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana in 2017, but actual approvals of licenses to sell have been slow to come. And there have been ugly examples of pay-to-play corruption along the way. That kind of corruption—along with the legal entanglements of the drug’s federal illegality—continue to make bankers wary of serving the industry. Efforts to improve equity and transparency in the industry should help its reputation if and when the federal government changes its classification of cannabis.

Part of the problem in Massachusetts is the power of mayors to pick winners and losers in private. Mayors possess the singular authority to choose the winners and losers for licenses by the granting of host-community agreements. The host-community agreements are a pre-cursor to gaining a state license. But the Boston City Council and local equity advocates have pushed successfully to make the host-community-agreement process more transparent and more equitable.

The Boston City Council advocated for and achieved a process that includes recommendations from a Cannabis Board . Members also sought to emphasize providing support and training for local cannabis entrepreneurs not connected with big-business cannabis sellers. Big-business operations have dominated the legal-marijuana market elsewhere and have been poised to do so in Boston, as well.

Boston mayor Marty Walsh will still have the final say on which applications get approved for host-community agreements. However, prior to the mayor’s decisions, the Cannabis Board will weigh applicants on public predetermined criteria and will make public their votes. Both applicants and the public will be able to assess Mayor Walsh’s final decisions relative to the public process of the Cannabis Board.

This effort by the Boston City Council to distribute accountability beyond the mayor himself and to make transparent the decision-making is an example of  Horizontal Governance. Horizontal Governance is a process by which information and accountability for decision-making is shared horizontally across an enterprise.


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