Boston inched closer Wednesday to having its first recreational marijuana store, possibly within months, as state regulators granted a provisional license to a planned shop in Dorchester.
The license for Pure Oasis also marked the first granted to a member of the state’s economic empowerment program, which aims to help people from communities disproportionately harmed by pot criminalization.
So far, the state has struggled to meet its first-in-the-nation mandate to include disenfranchised groups in its cannabis industry.
At a meeting dominated by criticism of national pot companies’ behavior, the Cannabis Control Commission praised Pure Oasis’ progress as a step toward meeting the commission’s social justice goals.
“It’s an important milestone,” commission chairman Steven Hoffman said after officials erupted in applause. “I’m extraordinarily proud of all of us to have gotten to this point. We are just beginning. We have a lot of work to do here.”
Kobie Evans, a co-owner of Pure Oasis, said he hoped the state and local governments keep pushing to ease the path for businesses like his and don’t see his progress as proof the system always works well.
“It’s bittersweet,” Evans said. “We want to make sure there are other people coming from the inner cities who have the same opportunity that we do. The outlook is real bleak right now.”
Local government approvals are the toughest part of the process, he said, noting that other entrepreneurs like him have perhaps struggled because wealthier companies were able to offer municipalities more money as part of the local contract, called a host-community agreement, that pot businesses need to apply for a license.
None of the state’s 22 pot shops is owned by a member of the economic empowerment program, which provide participants with licensing advantages. One store, Caroline’s Cannabis, is owned by someone in the social equity program, which provides training and mentorship.
Evans, a real estate agent, and his business partner, Kevin Hart, a health care manager, qualified for the program because they live in areas with high rates of marijuana arrests: Roxbury and Randolph, respectively. Throughout their lives, Evans said, they have both faced frequent unwarranted police stops and searches associated with the war on drugs.
“Any African-American male like myself and my partner who grows up in the inner city has come literally face-to-face with a police officer sticking a gun in our face or being stopped and frisked for no reason,” Evans said. “It’s normalized to us and unfortunately people don’t realize it has long-lasting traumatic effects.”
Stores that receive provisional licenses typically open in about four to five months, though Pure Oasis owners told the commission the store could be operational within three months. Pure Oasis will be at 430 Blue Hill Ave. in Grove Hall.
The state’s first pot shops opened in November but only a handful so far are located near Boston. The closest ones are in Brookline, Newton, Lowell, and Salem.
Industry analysts say the slow opening of stores in the populous Greater Boston area, compared with Western and Central Massachusetts, has contributed to the state’s thriving illicit market because many consumers simply don’t have a local store. About 75 percent of the state’s pot sales this year are expected to be underground, according to BDS Analytics, a Colorado-based market research firm.
Recreational marijuana sales have reached $176 million since November, bringing in an estimated $29 million in state taxes.
Separately at Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners admonished two companies for allegedly violating state regulations, but delayed action until their next meeting on Aug. 8.
Commissioners criticized Curaleaf, which on Wednesday became the nation’s most valuable pot company after an $875 million acquisition, for changing its ownership last October without seeking their approval, as required.
At the time, Curaleaf Massachusetts, which holds several marijuana license across the state, was acquired by Curaleaf Holdings Inc., which started trading publicly on the Canadian Securities Exchange days later. The commission’s investigators said they learned about the change in November and contacted the company.
The company said that the executives’ stock holdings stayed the same, so ownership hadn’t actually changed hands, regulators said. The commission acknowledged that it had no formal process for seeking approvals for ownership changes until January.
But Commissioner Kay Doyle said there was “nothing that stopped the applicant from sending in documentation requesting approval.”
“You don’t need a form necessarily,” she said.
Curaleaf CEO Joe Lusardi said the company would keep working with the commission to secure its blessing.
“We have followed the prescribed process, including filing a [Cannabis Control Commission] form, which became available in January, and look forward to bringing this application to conclusion,” he said in a statement.
Commissioners also took issue with Verilife, a pot shop in Wareham, for what they described as an inadequate “positive impact plan,” a requirement for licensees to help communities disproportionately hurt by pot prohibition.
In seeking to renew its license, which expires Aug. 13, Verilife provided invoices showing it paid $109,000 for Wareham police details, $1,200 to an art conservation firm, and $1,000 for an oyster festival sponsorship.
“I have very serious concerns about this licensee’s understanding of their obligations to operate in Massachusetts,” said commissioner Shaleen Title.
Verilife’s parent company, Pharmacannis, said it would review the commission’s concerns.
“If criticism was indeed warranted, then we will cure any defects or deficiencies to the satisfaction of the commission, both in letter and spirit,” said Jeremy Unruh, a spokesman for Pharmacannis.