Proposed Roxbury pot shop stirs debate
Some argue it’s not what the neighborhood needs
WHEN IT COMES to the debate over marijuana legalization in Massachusetts, the horse has left the barn. Voters legalized recreational marijuana sales via a 2016 statewide ballot question, and pot shops are becoming part of the landscape.
But just because storefront weederies are legal doesn’t mean they are necessarily desirable.
That’s the argument some are putting forward in the debate over a proposed pot store in Nubian Square in Roxbury. There was lots of support for a dispensary in the business district during a virtual community hearing on Tuesday night — but also opposition from a well-known activist who has spent decades working to uplift the neighborhood.
The Boston Herald reports that Sadiki Kambon, chairman of the Nubian Square Coalition, spoke strongly against the proposal.
The proposal needs approval first from a city cannabis review board and then must go to the state Cannabis Control Commission, which licenses marijuana businesses.
Legalization proponents have argued that marijuana laws had a particularly devastating effect on black communities, where lots of people got criminal records for pot offenses that held them back from employment and educational opportunities. Indeed, the state cannabis commission’s website says it is “committed to an industry that encourages and enables full participation by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement.”
That social equity argument was on full display at last night’s hearing, where Brian Keith, one of four co-owners of the company looking to open a store in Nubian Square, spoke about building “generational wealth” through a business “that’s 100% people of color owned and 100% people of color invested.”
There may be a generational divide to the issue. Kambon, a veteran of decades of activism, is both a figurative — and now literal — greybeard of the Roxbury community. The only other person the Herald quotes speaking against the proposal is 78-year-old Alvert Owens.
Voters “should never have made it legal because people start out with marijuana and then go on to some other drug,” Owens said. “There’s enough of that around here.”The legalization debate may be over, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be legitimate concerns about where to locate pot stores. There are strong social equity arguments for ensuring that minority entrepreneurs get a slice of the marijuana pie. But is it unreasonable for a long-time activist like Kambon to wonder whether a pot store in the heart of a long-struggling poor neighborhood, one that has been ravaged by drug use, will help lift up the community or only those who own it?
Author Alex Berenson, who has argued that marijuana’s dangers — especially evidence pointing to mental illness risks for adolescents and young adults — have been underplayed, pointed out in a CommonWealth interview last year that leaders like Kambon have spent years fighting the proliferation of liquor stores as a blight on poor minority neighborhoods that only helps enable addiction.