A federal grand jury has subpoenaed the City of Boston for records of interactions between local officials and marijuana company representatives.
The demand makes the city the most prominent subject yet of a wide-ranging investigation into municipal corruption by the office of US Attorney Andrew Lelling — though there’s no evidence prosecutors are targeting Boston in particular.
The subpoena, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe, was issued Monday and carries a Nov. 14 deadline for Boston to respond. It is essentially identical to the subpoenas issued to several dozen other municipalities by Assistant US Attorney Mark Grady, a prosecutor in Lelling’s anticorruption unit. One main focus: the “host community agreements” every marijuana firm must sign with the city or town where it hopes to open before it can obtain a state license.
The subpoena seeks copies of host community agreements, including unsigned early drafts; all communications between marijuana companies and Boston officials, plus e-mails and other communications among city employees regarding the agreements; records indicating community support or opposition to proposals for marijuana facilities; and records regarding current and former Boston employees or officials attempting to win local marijuana permits or working for marijuana firms.
The subpoena seeks records from all of Boston’s government, including executive agencies under the Walsh administration and the City Council and its staff.
The Globe reported Monday that at least six municipalities — Eastham, Great Barrington, Leicester, Newton, Northampton, and Uxbridge — had received subpoenas. Since then, other media outlets have identified more than 20 cities and towns that were also contacted by Lelling’s office.
Lelling’s office has declined to comment on the grand jury’s activities.
A spokeswoman for Walsh, whose office had declined to say whether the city was subpoenaed in the probe, said the city could not comment in detail.
“Law enforcement requests that a subpoena be kept confidential to preserve the integrity of their investigation,” Laura Oggeri, Walsh’s communications chief, said in a statement. “It’s important that we are respectful of this process, including any confidentiality requirements.”
Boston so far has signed host community agreements with 14 marijuana operators; no recreational pot shops have opened in the city, though several have applications pending before the state Cannabis Control Commission.
Currently, Alexis Finneran Tkachuk, director of the city’s nascent Office of Emerging Industries, chooses behind closed doors which marijuana companies get host community agreements, without which they cannot obtain a state license or open. Walsh’s office has said Tkachuk works in conjunction with Boston planning, transportation, and legal officials to pick the winners. New selections have been made sporadically, with months sometimes passing between announcements.
Some advocates and license applicants have complained about Boston’s process of picking pot firms, calling it opaque, arbitrary, and subject to political influence.
Officials counter that they have approved several local, minority-owned firms without political connections, and are striking a tricky balance between neighborhood feedback, zoning considerations, and a crush of prospective cannabis entrepreneurs.
Numerous former public officials are involved with firms seeking licenses in Boston, including former city councilor Tito Jackson, former Massachusetts secretary of public safety Andrea Cabral, former state representative Marie St. Fleur, former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis, former Boston School Committee chair Elizabeth Reilinger, former mayoral spokeswoman Dot Joyce, and two former members of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal, which must sign off on every cannabis facility.
Walsh in September banned all city employees from participating in marijuana firms seeking licenses in Boston. His administration has also pledged to prioritize local applicants and those participating in state equity programs that are meant to help members of communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.
The subpoena — along with this week’s election, which will put more progressives on the City Council — could bring new attention to a proposal from City Councilor Kim Janey to overhaul the city’s process of selecting marijuana operators by handing oversight to a new independent board that would evaluate and vote on applications in public. The ordinance would also carve out a two-year exclusivity period for certain state-designated equity applicants.
Janey’s proposal is expected to come before the council for a vote later this month and appears to have the support of a majority of councilors.
Walsh and the City Council tangled over marijuana earlier this year after his administration granted host community agreements to two proposed cannabis retailers in East Boston that are within a half-mile of one another.
City rules say all such facilities must be at least a half-mile apart, and Walsh’s administration had previously said it would enforce that rule when picking which firms got host community agreements.
After issuing the two agreements in East Boston, however, Walsh’s office backtracked, saying it was actually the job of the Zoning Board of Appeal to apply the buffer zone. That drew confusion and condemnation from the City Council, which refused to confirm several of Walsh’s nominees to the powerful board until they declared their stance on the issue.
Meanwhile, Brookline — which hosts a New England Treatment Access marijuana store that is among the busiest in the United States — confirmed to the Globe that it, too, had received a grand jury subpoena.