Harvard Square Business Association (and others) to oppose Black-owned dispensary at 3/16/21 Cambridge Planning Board Hearing

First published: 12: 55 PM Eastern Daylight Time

The Cambridge Planning Board. Source, Cambridgema.gov

The more I look into the arguments being made by the Harvard Square Business Association (and others) in the lead up to tomorrow's (3/16/2021, 6:30PM) Cambridge Planning Board Hearing against allowing a Black owned retail dispensary to operate in the city, the more questions I begin to have.

As the image below, from a 9/23/2020 letter sent via a coalition including the Business Association and others, makes clear[1], the presence of another medical dispensary in the area (what was once called Healthy Pharms but is now owned by MSO Mission) is playing at least some role in the decision to attempt to rally members of the community to oppose application PB-376 tomorrow night at 6:30.

The argument being made raises serious questions because, as folks who may be familiar with the adult use licensing process in Cambridge may be aware, medical dispensaries in the City of Cambridge lobbied extensively[2] to attempt to get themselves included in the equity priority period for adult use licenses in the city.

However, those efforts (and a subsequent lawsuit by corporate medical dispensary Revolutionary Clinics) were rebuffed -- by the City and three different Judges -- and, in turn, the priority period remains in effect to this day[3][4]. As a result, some of the arguments made by the Harvard Square Business Association suggest that the distinction between Mission and the proposed Black-owned adult use dispensary is that Mission is "only" a medical dispensary, yet the record makes clear that medical dispensaries assert a legal right -- per MGL 94 (g) (3) (a) (1) (i) -- to convert to adult use establishments.

Thus, one wonders if at least some of the opposition being planned at tomorrow night's planning board meeting might be, actually, aimed at allowing Mission to convert to an adult use retailers (after the priority period ends) without competition from a nearby Black-owned adult use retailer.

A follow up letter sent today[5], 3/15/2021, this time ostensibly penned by just the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, reiterated some claims made in the 9/23/2020 letter and also made other arguments against the opening of the Black-owned retail dispensary on JFK street.

"Lets call it what it is", said Cambridge City Councillor
Quinton Zondervan, "the arguments being put forth in opposition are self-interested and racist. Some of what we have seen, even before this letter, I addressed in an op-ed[6] I wrote with some of my colleagues to talk about how racist some of this rhetoric is, in particular this notion of increased police presence or relegating a Black owned business to a basement."

Some of the arguments put forth by the Harvard Square Business Association and others in the coalition indicated that the they felt the Black
-owned dispensary should not be located at street level and that the location would "require" increased police presence.

"Over and over again," Councillor Zondervan Continued, "its clear that they are targeting this
Black-owned business and promoting a white owned alternative."

The self interest component, said the Councillor, was driven by an attempt to allow Mission to wait out the city's Equity Priority period and co-locate in Harvard Square as an adult use retailer with no competition from a Black
-owned retailer.

For former
Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title, the situation reflects a tactic to perpetuate historical racial disparities."To me, this looks similar to other efforts we've seen nationally in the past few years to appeal to racism in order to hold down Black people and Black-owned businesses, ultimately in the service of greed and more profits for the same old interests. Astroturfing failed, empty lawsuits failed, and I hope this type of dog-whistling fails too."

If indeed the concerns of the Councillor and the former Commissioner and validated, and an attempt at creating an oligopoly for a single company is playing even a small role in a public policy decision of this nature in Cambridge, one imagines the public comment portion of tomorrow's hearing will become all the more important.

One local resident,
Chandra Batra, said she will be attending the Planning Board Hearing on Tuesday night in support of the proposed Black-owned retail establishment. As she explained,

"Cambridge is a racially diverse city and business ownership needs to reflect the people who live in this area. All people, not just white people, deserve a chance to be a part of [this industry] and to build inter-generational wealth. It is damning that so
many white people, who were the creators and thus responsible for orchestrating the War on A Plant due to economic inequality and wealth disparity, have been the first people to benefit from that shameful systemic inequity."

their 9/23/2021 letter, the coalition of neighborhood and business groups said;

"We stand ready to support this Economic Empowerment applicant – and others – in finding locations that do not compromise the Cannabis Commission’s intended goals of balancing the community’s various needs and interests."

The Cambridge Planning Board will meet on Tuesday, March 16th, at 6:30 PM to consider the application discussed in this piece (PB. 376).

Members of the public interested in signing up for public comment may use this form:


[1] Page 4-5; https://www.scribd.com/document/498824946/Coalition-Letter-on-Cannabis-Shop-at-57-JFK-Signed-including-Harvard-Square-Business-Association-Harvard-Square-Neighborhood-Association-etc

[2] https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/marijuana/2019/07/01/follow-money-fight-over-cambridge-pot-policy/GORrl0PgO5J9jRSt1yYsYO/story.html

[3] https://midnightmass.substack.com/p/confusion-around-cambridges-cannabis

[4] https://www.cambridgeday.com/2020/10/10/judge-has-a-new-rejection-for-dispensary-lawsuit-to-break-two-year-head-start-on-recreational-pot/

[5] https://mailchi.mp/58b7d59fdc6d/hsna-winter2021-10071218

[6] https://commonwealthmagazine.org/opinion/support-black-owned-cannabis-shop-in-harvard-square/

By: Grant Smith Ellis

People in this article;
Quinton Zondervan
Shaleen Title
Chandra Batra

Other stories;