Boston's First Marijuana Store Set To Open Monday

BOSTON (State House News Service) — The first business to apply for a Massachusetts marijuana license through the process designed to give a leg up to people and communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for marijuana offenses is due to open Monday after getting the final clearance from regulators Thursday.

The business, Pure Oasis, LLC, will make history a second way when it opens next week: it will also be the first retail marijuana store to open in Boston since voters legalized marijuana use in 2016. The retail location at 430 Blue Hill Ave. in Dorchester got its final license in February and plans to open at 11 a.m. Monday.

"On behalf of the entire team at Pure Oasis, we are excited to reach this important moment where we will open our doors as the first retail cannabis business in Boston and as the first economic empowerment candidate in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Pure Oasis co-owners Kobie Evans and Kevin Hart said. "We want to thank the Cannabis Control Commission for their ongoing support every step of the way, Mayor Walsh and the City of Boston for their willingness to assist us through this process since day one, the City Council and the community who has embraced us."

How Massachusetts' newly legal marijuana industry could be accessible to racially and economically diverse communities and how the industry could benefit groups that were disproportionately affected by the enforcement of marijuana prohibition has been a centerpiece of policy work in Massachusetts and at the Cannabis Control Commission.

On Wednesday, the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy released a redrafted bill that seeks to solidify the CCC's program that offers training and assistance to entrepreneurs from communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition into state law and make it easier for those applicants to access the capital necessary to launch a successful venture—both priorities of CCC leadership.

The bill (S 1123/H 3522) codifies the CCC's social equity program and economic empowerment program into state law and sets a minimum amount of CCC funding that must be directed towards the social equity and economic empowerment programs, according to Senate Chairwoman Sonia Chang-Diaz's office. It's a redraft of a Sen. Nick Collins and Rep. Daniel Hunt bill.

The committee bill would also establish a Social Equity Loan Fund that could provide no-interest loans to social equity and economic empowerment program participants. The bill calls for 10 percent of the revenue generated by the state's 10.25 percent marijuana-specific excise tax to flow into the fund as long as there are matching donations from private sources, Chang-Diaz's office said.

"This is both a critical and efficient step in delivering on the requirement that money from marijuana tax revenues be spent on restorative economic development for communities harmed by the War on Drugs. Many talented small businesses and individuals are waiting in the wings, ready to provide value to the market and build wealth in their communities, if they can just get a foot in the door with start-up capital," Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat who represents the neighborhood in which Pure Oasis is located, said. "Nobody's asking for a hand-out here — these are loans — people just want to be able to compete on a level playing field. Right now, the unavailability of start-up capital is tilting the playing field steeply toward out-of-state corporations and millionaires."

The chairman of the CCC was pleased with the committee's bill—it addresses two of the three recommendationsthe cannabis regulators made to legislative leaders last week.

"The Cannabis Control Commission has worked tirelessly since its inception to create equity in the Massachusetts cannabis industry through policies, programming, and regulations designed to lower barriers to entry and ensure full participation by individuals who have been harmed by previous prohibition," Chairman Steven Hoffman said. "I am grateful the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy took action today to build upon Massachusetts' nation-leading equity mandates by releasing this bill and look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to make sure disproportionately impacted communities have a clear pathway into our regulated marketplace."

On Feb. 27, Hoffman and CCC Executive Director Shawn Collins wrote to Chang-Diaz and House Chairman Rep. David Rogers suggesting that the Legislature might want to add the equity programs into the state law and "establish a dedicated source of funding in order to ensure consistent and sustained access to training, technical assistance, mentorship, and other benefits."

The regulators also proposed that the Legislature consider creating a loan fund similar to those in Illinois and Oakland to "begin to address the lack of capital that is most widely cited as a barrier to entry preventing businesses with fewer resources from entering the market" and to satisfy the statutory requirement that marijuana revenues benefit restorative justice programs and services for economically-disadvantaged people.

Hoffman and Collins said it is important that any such loan fund allows for private donations.

"Currently, several cannabis businesses in Massachusetts are keeping funds in escrow in order to donate them for this purpose, and others have expressed a willingness to contribute to a fund with these objectives," they wrote.

The CCC officials made a third recommendation, one that does not appear to be covered in the committee's latest bill. Under the state's marijuana law, the CCC is required to ensure that people from communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition are included in the legal industry and to prioritize applications from businesses that would empower those communities, hence the social equity and economic empowerment programs.

But municipalities are under no such obligations, and the CCC cannot consider issuing a business license until the host municipality has approved it.

"This has created an inconsistency and a disparity in the types of applicants who are able to navigate and ultimately succeed in our application process. The inconsistency has impeded our ability to fulfill our requirements, and thus the Commonwealth's ability to meet its commitments," Hoffman and Collins wrote. "The Legislature may wish to address this inconsistency by enacting a similar requirement for municipalities to ensure the inclusion of the same communities."

If the House or Senate takes up the Cannabis Policy Committee's latest bill, it would be the second time this session that the Legislature has shown an interest in tweaking the marijuana law it rewrote and passed in 2017.

Last month, the House voted to empower the CCC to "review, regulate and enforce" the legally-required contracts between marijuana businesses and their host communities, addressing one of the most vexing issues confronting the still-young legal marijuana industry and the regulators tasked with ensuring equitable access to the sector in Massachusetts.

by Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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