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Editor's note: This article has been updated to further clarify the regulations.
The city will only allow Economic Empowerment [EE] applicants to open marijuana retail stores for the next two years.
The City Council on Monday passed a proposed Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance, creating an independent permitting process that businesses would have to comply with to operate in the city, according to a communication from City Manager Louis DePasquale to the council. The ordinance will also require businesses to enter a community host agreement with the city, obtain a Planning Board special permit, obtain all other permits and approval required by state and local laws and regulations, as well as obtain the Cannabis Business Permit from the Inspectional Services Department.
For the next two years, only Economic Empowerment applicants can operate an adult use cannabis retail store. After two years, women- and minority-owned businesses, low-income Cambridge residents, Social Equity applicants who are also Cambridge residents, and registered medical dispensaries (RMDs), can also operate an adult use cannabis retail store, according to the co-authors of the ordinance, councilors Quinton Zondervan and Sumbul Siddiqui.
"Other types of cannabis businesses permitted by the state (e.g. cultivation) can be operated in Cambridge by all the priority applicants listed above and are not subject to the two-year limitation," they further clarified in a letter to the editor. "Businesses that do not qualify as priority applicants as described above, are excluded indefinitely from operating any cannabis business in Cambridge."
Siddiqui said she hoped prioritizing EE applicants would allow them to establish their businesses in Cambridge.
“The country’s racist War on Drugs has heavily impacted and criminalized black and brown folks,” Siddiqui said. “It’s our collective responsibility to do the best we can to fight for policies that provide equitable access to the wealth and opportunity inherent in this emerging billion-dollar cannabis industry.”
Councilor Craig Kelley said in a follow-up interview that he wished the ordinance had gone further to help the second tier of economic opportunity business people who aren’t looking to open a store but might want to deliver marijuana products or introduce marijuana products to their business.
“Those are people who we don’t have a ready mechanism of helping outside of our standard CDD and community development economic experts here that we have who help with general retail,” Kelley said. “But the marijuana law is just so different from other types of law in terms of the risk you’re taking and where your funding can come from and the relevant regulatory laws and the list goes on.
“I worry that we’re not going to have a good tool to help the people move into this market at a lower level safely,” Kelley said.
Despite his reservations, Kelley voted in favor of the ordinance.
“I’m glad we finally moved forward,” Kelley said. “It wasn’t what I would have chosen had I been the deciding vote, but that’s the way politics is, there are some compelling arguments for what wound up passing and at the end of the day the council had an obligation to move something forward so that we can in fact both provide the business opportunities for the people that want to go into this business, and provide the purchasing opportunities for the people in and around Cambridge who voted for the state law in such an overwhelming amount a few years ago.”
Councilor Denise Simmons said the council was trying to achieve the right goal but was going about it the wrong way. She said she wished the ordinance had gone further and voted present.
“If this ordinance passes tonight as I expect that it will, the city of Cambridge will not be establishing the nation’s leading economic empowerment program as we have previously proposed,” Simmons said. “I think we are ultimately going to look back on this moment [and] regret how we have chosen to go about this.
“Instead of the first program in the country that solves the biggest barrier to entry for economic empowerment applicants, the access to the necessary capital, we will be embracing a moratorium that leads to uncertainty as well as further unnecessary and expensive delays for several of our other economic empowerment applicants.”
Cambridge resident Richard Harding -- president of a nonprofit, Green Soul Community Development Foundation, aimed at creating more equity in the cannabis industry -- noted that minorities are vastly underrepresented in businesses that require licensing, and pointed out that only one minority-owned business has a liquor license in Cambridge.
“It doesn’t take a genius to understand the inequity that can be seen every single day within licensing from many different industries,” Harding said. “The cannabis one is just the one that was at the forefront in this particular issue.