WE WERE THRILLED to hear about the proposal for a black-owned cannabis dispensary in Harvard Square. The location is highly suitable and the venture will be a boon for the local economy.
It is wonderful to see local entrepreneurs capitalize on our attempts to create equity in an emerging industry, and we see this as a powerful opportunity to counter decades of injustice caused by the War on Drugs. Though some, including the Harvard Square Business Association, have found reasons to oppose, we urge the community to rally behind this proposal and these entrepreneurs as a matter of racial justice.
This proposal fully complies with zoning regulations. Opponents have raised concerns about the proximity to Winthrop Park, but that space is neither a children’s playground, a youth athletic field, or a youth recreation facility. The zoning explicitly forbids dispensaries from opening near those youth-oriented spaces or near schools, but it does not forbid one from opening near Winthrop Park.
Opponents note that the Planning Board rejected a 2019 application in East Cambridge due to its proximity to Rogers Park, but Rogers Park is explicitly a youth-oriented space. The zoning laws allow the applicant to open within close proximity to an existing medical dispensary because the applicant is an economic empowerment applicant.
Opponents of this proposal are often the first to point out that there are too many vacant storefronts and banks in Harvard Square. Yet, this is an opportunity to repurpose a long-vacant space at the Crimson Galleria with what would be one of just a handful of black-owned businesses in the entire square. The dispensary would drive foot traffic to nearby businesses, enhancing economic activity and helping the entire neighborhood thrive. The entrepreneurs pledge to energize the prominent facade with art and visual displays that celebrate the historical significance and accomplishments of the local community and cultural organizations.
Cambridge’s pioneering moratorium gives state-certified economic empowerment applicants an opportunity to be the sole operators of recreational cannabis shops in the city, but those who qualify still face numerous hurdles and expenses. Entrepreneurs must start paying rent on a viable location before they can even begin to navigate the multiple levels of bureaucracy, amidst a pandemic and in the context of the region’s vast racial wealth gap. Of the 122 applicants with economic empowerment priority statewide, only 11 have received a license, and even fewer have actually opened for business.
Cambridge’s moratorium itself was (unsuccessfully) challenged in court by a white-owned dispensary on the grounds that the ordinance was “racially discriminatory.”
Community opposition to economic empowerment applicants in Cambridge is an additional, unnecessary hurdle on the way to racial justice and to end the War on Drugs. In this case, the opponents’ objections aren’t really about safety or proximity to a park. They are opposed to a business that runs counter to their vision of an “acceptable” business for Harvard Square. This is visible when opponents imply that the proposed establishment would necessitate an increased police presence in Harvard Square or that it belongs in a basement location instead of on a prominent corner.
We must act to undo decades of damage caused by the War on Drugs and play a proactive role in supporting minority-owned businesses in Cambridge by taking steps to fuel their success and swell their ranks. As Cambridge officials, we urge you to join us in supporting the project by speaking during public comment periods in upcoming hearings and/or emailing the Planning Board.
Sumbul Siddiqui is the mayor, Alanna Mallon is the vice mayor, and Quinton Zondervan and Marc McGovern are city councilors in Cambridge.