Part Two | Minority-Owned Marijuana Business Owners Face Crushing Wait Time
This story is part two of a two-part series about host community agreements in Massachusetts. Read part onehere.
Chauncy Spencer is the proud tenant of roughly 10,000 square feet of empty space on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan. An old Payless Shoes sign still hangs out front, and inside, bright orange Home Depot buckets catch drops of water from a leaky ceiling.
“Essentially, this is just carpet … and wall,” Spencer said, surveying the space where he hopes to one day open “The 420,” his recreational marijuana shop.
Spencer started renting this space for $5,000 per month in April 2018. When he applied for a license to open a pot shop, he said, the state told him he was first in line, and his chances for getting approved were good. He said he thought he would make his rent money back in no time.
“The city spoke the language of economic empowerment,” Spencer said. “And they encouraged us to come into this space.”
Spencer was considered “priority status” by the state because he’s black, he grew up in a Dorchester neighborhood that has been negatively and disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, and in 2003, he was arrested for growing four weed plants in his Danvers apartment and charged with drug trafficking.
Through equity programs put in place by the state, applicants with backgrounds like Spencer’s are considered social or economic empowerment candidates, and they were told they could get first dibs to open a marijuana shop. After all Spencer had been through, he said it seemed to him like a kind of justice.
But the law allowed communities to make demands of applicants, and bigger businesses could offer more incentives to cities and towns. And somehow, those big operators seemed to be getting licenses first. Across the whole state, 309 provisional licenses have been awarded to marijuana applicants, according to the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).
But only 11 total licenses have been given out to the 143 participants of the social equity program and the 122 certified economic empowerment applicants, WGBH News has found.
To operate in Massachusetts, a marijuana business has to sign a contract with the city or town they’ll be working in, called a host community agreement (HCA).