Dot-based group making a push for cannabis equity

Jones Hill residents lobbying to expand the social equity requirements for potential marijuana businesses are taking an initial tour through several Dorchester civic groups where cannabis is high on their priority lists.

At a meeting of the Jones Hill Civic Association last week, Kamani Jefferson explained the requirements that his Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council (MRCC) is advocating for on the city and state level.

“As a social equity vendor and someone who’s been advocating for social equity since the beginning, we’ve put together a five-point program that we are working with the city of Boston to try to implement when bringing new business to town,” Jefferson said.

Their equity plan sets goals for local employment and contributions to a training fund designed to help those who live in a neighborhood scorched by the war on drugs benefit from the legalized marijuana industry.

Jefferson is a registered lobbyist and president of the MRCC, which is based in Dorchester.

City Councillor Kim Janey filed an ordinance in early February with strong equity language. It would prioritize potential proprietors from Boston communities adversely impacted by the policies of the war on drugs and also initially give licensing preference to “equity applicants” for two years.
After that point, Janey called for a 2-to-1 ratio of licenses given to equity versus non-equity candidates.

Equity applicants would be defined by criteria giving preference to residents who are local, people of color, or low-income, and those who live in communities adversely impacted by earlier harsher drug laws. Fifty-one percent of the ownership team would have to meet those criteria for the proponents to be considered an equity applicant.

Jefferson said he and his team worked with Janey on those requirements, but they are pushing for an additional set of commitments from hopeful marijuana businesses. It distinguishes between types of applicants – national applicants operating in multiple states, general applicants, economic empowerment applicants, and social equity applicants.

Each would have different standards for local contribution. National applications, for instance, would donate two percent of their gross annual revenue to a Boston social equity and training fund. Empowerment and equity applicants would benefit from that fund.

“They should also employ locals and people of color, train others, and provide help with sealing or expunging criminal records, Jefferson said. Any business coming directly to Dorchester should be working with them.”

At the Jones Hill meeting, business partners Ben Virga and Luke Marut again pitched their recreational shop for 8-12 Hancock St., which would renovate the former Cataloni’s bar into an appointment-only dispensary. The appointment model and data evaluation for the first 60 days would allow them to “really fine tune stuff,” by overstaffing during that period to get a sense of the demand. “We’re looking for a flow,” Virga said.

They are committed to the standards that MRCC proposed, he said. They would fall under the general applicant category, and would give two percent of their gross annual income or $250,000 annually for seven years to the fund. Even though they will not actually have revenue for a year, Virga said, they will meet the financial requirements anyway.

“We committed to that because it’s exactly what we’ve stood before this group and said,” he noted. They agreed that “if you think this is good for Dorchester, put your money where your mouth is.”

In its diversity plan, Virga’s Frozen Four LLC committed to at least 75 percent of all employees hired for and working at the dispensary being Boston residents. They also pledged to provide business training on the industry focused on African-Americans and Latinos; host or participate in at least three job fairs each year geared toward minorities in Greater Boston; mentor members of those groups through local partnerships; and provide a diversity and commitment report each year.

Civic president Bridget Curd said the discussion post-presentation was in line with the questions raised through the process so far. “The real concern is, what is it gonna look like once it’s there, public safety, traffic, parking – that’s what a large part of the argument was about,” she said, adding that they “voted reluctantly,” as there were only a handful of attendees who did not necessarily reflect the discussion around the proposal happening on social media and out of the room.

Three voted yes, five no, and five more abstained. The Hancock Street Civic Association previously had voted in opposition.

In an email after the meeting, Virga told the Reporter that they remain “very encouraged with community process.” He said that throughout their meetings with the Hancock Street and Jones Hill civic groups and other residents, “only 14 total people officially opposed our proposed use at this specific site compared to 7,000+ people who voted to legalize recreational cannabis from this neighborhood in 2016.” They interpret that as “the clearest indication possible that no substantial opposition exists to our intended use at this specific site.”

Still, they, too, were disheartened by the limited nature of the civic process, reflective mostly of those who are able or willing to show up to these evening meetings. To rectify that, Virga said, they created Frozen4store.com, with renderings and details of the equity commitments as a resource for residents looking to engage with the proposal.

“The community process has been incredibly helpful for our development of our business model,” he said, “but the focus of this process has largely been based on the questions of morality and legality, which is not at all what the process should be when applying for an[alternate use] permit within the city.”

Curd said they expect to have another conversation and likely another vote at the civic group’s March meeting.

Continuing its road trip, MRCC was scheduled to appear before the Meetinghouse Hill civic group on Wednesday (Feb. 20), as was another new marijuana proponent, 617 THC, which is proposing a marijuana retailer at 144 Bowdoin St. A slide deck from its presentation did not offer detail on staffing, being mostly focused on security while stating, “As a retail store only, the location will not constitute a nuisance to the community.”

All three men on the 617 THC leadership team are long-time Boston area residents. The chief financial officer, real estate investor Richard Gin, lives in Fields Corner; Steve Chan, the firm’s president, is described as a “leading purveyor and supplier of fresh poultry in Chinatown; and chief operations officer Tom Chung “built a successful wholesaling business serving convenience stores across Massachusetts.”

A public meeting on 617THC’s proposal was scheduled for Tuesday night, prior to the civic meeting.

In other meeting news, the One Dorchester group comprising a few dozen civic, health center, and main street organizations that have formed around the marijuana rollout will have a meeting on Monday to debrief after their inaugural January gathering at the Strand Theatre and plan their next steps.

Two topics that arose at the Strand meeting, which was not open to the public, have gained some traction. They involve the potential for marijuana cooperatives and a fund designated to help smaller potential applicants navigate the process and generate enough start-up capital to be competitive in the market.

Two elected officials have picked up on the issues. State Sen. Nick Collins has filed a bill to expand the cooperative farming and ownership model to “retail, sales, and all other phases of the marijuana industry.” And Councillor Janey’s proposal would route some fees and taxes from marijuana companies into a small business program geared toward training, educating, and supporting marijuana applicants.