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Mass. cannabis meeting abruptly ends after local business owner interjects with concerns about licensing

Richard Vogel/Associated Press

Long-simmering frustrations over the fairness of the state’s marijuana licensing process burst into public view Thursday, as a business owner interrupted the Cannabis Control Commission’s meeting, prompting the commission to adjourn early.

That move delayed the licensing of 20 businesses, including that of former Suffolk County sheriff Andrea Cabral, that were slated to be considered for provisional licenses Thursday. The commission didn’t immediately say when it would reschedule the meeting.

Speaking from the front row, the business owner, Leah Cooke Daniels, accused the commission of failing to honor her economic-empowerment status, a designation the state granted to applicants who either were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs or who promised to help those communities. Cooke Daniels, a military veteran, said the commission’s delays were an “egregious insult” because they were due to a suitability review, meaning the commission is thoroughly vetting her background.

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The application for her company, Alchemy League, has been pending for more than 600 days — though it has since been amended, including a change of location, said her wife, Jacinth Cooke Daniels. They originally planned to open their first store in Boston but have now turned their focus to a Holyoke location instead.

“As a veteran who has served her country, as a woman of color who has been disproportionately and adversely ... affected by the war on drugs, whom has never been convicted of a felony of any kind, a veteran with a license to carry a concealed firearm which was obtained within the last 10 months, applies for a license to sell cannabis is now, suddenly, a suitability threat, to sell cannabis,” Leah wrote in a letter that she read aloud Thursday. The letter was also posted on the website of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.

Shortly after Leah began speaking, commission chairman Steven Hoffman called the meeting into a recess, and all the commissioners except Shaleen Title left the room. Title remained seated at the commissioners’ table and watched as Leah spoke. Within a half hour, Hoffman and the commissioners returned, and they abruptly motioned to adjourn for the day.

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Asked why they disrupted the meeting, Jacinth said they wanted to urge the commission to take action on their application and those of other economic empowerment applicants who have not been granted licenses yet.

“We decided if economic empowerment applicants aren’t getting licenses, no one is getting licenses,” Jacinth said.

Hoffman said in an interview that when he tried to restart the meeting after the brief recess, the disruption continued, so he decided to end the meeting. He said he would try to reschedule the remaining portion of the meeting in upcoming weeks. Otherwise, it would be included in the commission’s Jan. 16 meeting.

Hoffman vowed to hold a public forum to hear and brainstorm solutions for the concerns raised by social equity and economic empowerment applicants. He acknowledged the state was behind on its goals to foster an inclusive industry, but he felt the commission’s efforts — including a mentorship and training program, licensing priority, and granting certain types of licenses exclusively to disenfranchised groups — would eventually bear fruit.

“This is a really important dialogue,” Hoffman said. “I hope that the forum ... is an outlet that works and allows us to get our work done so we don’t disappoint an additional group of applicants who are waiting patiently to get their applications reviewed and voted on.”

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Hoffman said he and the other commissioners left while Leah was talking because she was talking about her application details, and their practice is to only review applications that the commission’s staff has completed its process on and prepared for a vote.

“If the commission stayed, we would never be able to vote on” her application later, he said. “It would have crossed that line between what the staff does and what the commission does.”

Massachusetts was the first state to include in its marijuana legalization law a mandate to include groups that were targeted by the criminalization of marijuana, but minority entrepreneurs say they’ve been disappointed with the results. As of mid-November, just six of 227 licenses granted by the commission have gone to entrepreneurs in the state’s social equity and economic empowerment programs.

Cabral’s company, Ascend Mass LLC, which was slated to get a provisional license Thursday, has plans to open an adult-use marijuana dispensary at 272 Friend St., near North Station and TD Garden. It received approval from Boston zoning officials to start construction on the store in January.

Cabral’s company would have been the third Boston store to get its provisional license, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has previously indicated that Cabral’s store could be the first to open in Boston.


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans. Naomi Martin can be reached at naomi.martin@globe.com.