WORCESTER — Marijuana entrepreneurs and advocates returned Thursday to Worcester, where they hoped — for the second time — to keep cannabis regulators from approving licenses before addressing their concerns about the state’s licensing process.
But the group of about 20 people were just a few minutes too late. The commissioners approved all 31 applicants for provisional licenses in one fell swoop — an unusual step for the state agency that usually discusses applicants for initial licenses one by one before voting.
Within five minutes of its 11 a.m. start time, the meeting had adjourned. Just moments before, the advocates stood and began reading aloud: “We are not engaging to slow down the process. We are doing this to force accountability of the commission with the law."
Several from the group began walking around the packed room as they and others began shouting, “No approvals until economic empowerment approvals."
The group was led by Leah Cooke Daniels, who says the commission has not honored her status as an economic empowerment applicant, someone who has either been harmed by the war on drugs or who plans to help people in those communities. She said the economic empowerment status has made her feel like a “target.”
“I’m watching people go through this process in 120 days as a general applicant,” she said.
At the commission’s Dec. 19 meeting, Cooke Daniels stood and read a prepared list of concerns, prompting the regulators to abruptly adjourn and postpone the rest of that day’s agenda. Thursday’s meeting was announced earlier this week to finish those agenda items.
Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman said the panel voted on all provisional licenses at once Thursday to ensure that the companies were given a fair opportunity to continue moving through the licensing process.
“My intent is to find the balance to continue to do the work that we have to do and listen, and I think that that’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” he said.
But Cooke Daniels was “saddened” by the commission’s swift actions, she said after the meeting Thursday. She wanted a chance to speak, and more than that, she wanted answers about her own application.
“This is insanity is what it is. What is the reason why a priority applicant or applicants can not get through this process?" she said. “No application process takes 610 days. This is insanity, and it’s a sad, sad day.”
Gerald Nwosu, a local cannabis business applicant currently based in California, was one of many who came Thursday to support Cooke Daniels. He stood in the front of the room shouting with other applicants, and once the commissioners stood up from their chairs, he sat in Hoffman’s seat.
With sunglasses covering his eyes, he shouted, “Gerald Nwosu is now the head of the economic empowerment division, and nothing is being [expletive] moved until my sister finds out if she’s getting a license.”
He said in an interview afterward that he had to be there to support Cooke Daniels, and he just couldn’t bear the thought of her standing alone at the December meeting.
“If I was there, I would’ve stood up with her,” he said.
Hoffman said the commission has already taken some steps to make its licensing process more transparent, but he hopes to do more after a Jan. 23 forum with applicants where they can “hopefully collaborate on what we can do to make this work better.”
The commission has also created a more straightforward guidance document about licensing, and it is developing technology to be rolled out in the next few weeks that will allow applicants to check on their application status at any time.
Hoffman said, however, that some of the issues facing economic empowerment applicants — like a lack of capital or problems negotiating with municipalities — are simply out of the commission’s hands. He hopes the people who have voiced their concerns at commission meetings are also reaching out to other state agencies.
“I have no problem with people coming. I do have a problem with them disrupting our meetings because we can’t get our work done, but I recognize and understand their point of view,” he said. “We are committed to continue to listen to them, but I urge them to think about the other parts of state government that need to be involved in this solution and talk to them as well.”