A year ago, the first of Massachusetts’ adult-use marijuana shops opened. And while the number of retailers now open for business has certainly grown, one place remains notably barren: Boston.
Customers looking to pick up a bud or two don’t have to travel too far outside the city, relatively speaking.
There’s one store open in Newton to the west and further north in Lynn, and two in Salem. Transit riders can hop on the Green Line to get them over to Brookline, home of the nearest recreational dispensary to the city line.
Here in the Hub though, a fully operational, doors-open adult-use marijuana shop with a Boston address is yet to be seen.
That’s not to say there aren’t some in the works.
To date, two prospective retailers have secured provisional licenses from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission: Pure Oasis in Dorchester and Berkshire Roots in East Boston.
They’re both hoping they’ll get the final go-ahead from the regulating body within the next few months, they say.
But who will be the first to open, and when, exactly, isn’t so straightforward.
“It’s something that we really can’t control beyond the speed to completing our construction and retail operations set up,” Bill Hewson, director of marketing for Pittsfield-based Berkshire Roots, told Boston.com. “As we’ve learned … it’s a process that is mostly out of our control beyond our readiness.”
To open, applicants must complete a six-step process with the city that includes needed approvals from the Zoning Board of Appeal and on a Host Community Agreement from City Hall. From there, businesses head to the CCC for review and to receive their “commence operations” notice.
Thirteen marijuana businesses, not all of them in the retail sector, have signed agreements with the city to date. Those contracts will not be affected by an ordinance approved by the City Council Wednesday to overhaul the city’s review process with the aim to make the local industry more equitable.
Right now, six prospective Boston retailers — aside from the two with provisional licenses — have applications pending before the CCC as of Nov. 7, according to the latest list compiled by the commission.
All of those half-dozen businesses have at least submitted the required paperwork to trigger state review. The commission does not provide status updates, however, as applications move through the process.
To reach final approval, provisional license holders have a number of steps to complete, including passing a state inspection of the facility; registering store agents and fingerprinting its staff; tagging and cataloging inventory; and meeting any conditions set by the CCC specific to the location.
Pure Oasis, which plans to open at 430 Blue Hill Ave., made headlines when it received its provisional license in July. It marked a momentous occasion: Not only was it the first license of its kind for a Boston shop, it was also the first for a member of the CCC’s economic empowerment program.
The program prioritized applicants who met certain qualifications, such as being a resident of an “area of disproportionate impact” for a minimum of five years; having an income that’s below 400 percent of the federal poverty level; and having a past drug conviction or being the child or spouse of someone who did.
Co-owner Kobie Evans, who will open Pure Oasis with his business partner, Kevin Hart, said the company was already ecstatic to be the state’s first economic empowerment applicant approved. The idea of potentially being Boston’s first adult-use marijuana shop is “a mix of emotions,” he said in an interview.
“I think we’re just so elated to be in the conversation, part of that dialogue, to be the first economic empowerment in the state and minority-owned on the whole East Coast,” Evans said. “We would love to pull through and be the first in Boston, because you know that will always stand.”
Lately, things have been quite busy, he said. The store is currently getting ready for its state inspection this Thursday, according to Evans.
He noted that as a small, local business, there’s only so many resources and hours in a day.
“It’s hectic and there’s a lot going on, but we enjoy the journey,” he said.
Right now, Pure Oasis is hoping to land that final sign-off at the CCC’s next meeting on Dec. 19. From there, he’s not entirely certain when the store will open.
Opening within a couple of weeks after receiving permission to commence operations is “feasible,” but Evans is conscious about achieving the right balance, he said.
In other words, he doesn’t want to rush anything along too quickly, “but you do want to take advantage of the opportunity,” he said.
“In our mind, I think a win for us is just getting approval at the hearing and then we would have the runway to open,” he said.
Berkshire Roots opened its medical marijuana dispensary in Pittsfield last year before adding adult-use sales this past April, according to Hewson.
And business for its recreational marijuana products is good, if not great: Sales have remained consistently strong, and are growing, he said.
“They’ve been exceptional,” he said. “They’ve exceeded our expectations.”
The store’s second location, slated for 253 Meridian St., would cater to solely the adult-use market, Hewson said.
The potential of being Boston’s first store, or at least among the first few, is exciting and the company “recognize(s) the importance of doing it right,” he said.
“We really believe in our future in East Boston and are very much looking forward to being a good productive citizen of that historic neighborhood,” Hewson said.
Berkshire Roots is preparing for its future opening after its application with the city got caught up in some confusion at the ZBA earlier this year. The mayor’s office signed off on the store’s Host Community Agreement along with a contract for another applicant seeking to open less than a half mile away, contradicting city’s own ordinance of a required buffer zone.
Ultimately, the board approved both proposals, making an exception because of the error made by the mayor’s office.
Looking ahead, Hewson said the shop hopes to open by April 1. The company is already looking into measures for how it will handle opening day.
“We are investigating steps to minimize the impact on the neighborhood as far as foot traffic and crowds … We are evaluating a variety of technology solutions to help manage our shoppers’ experience and help make sure it’s as optimal for every one of our shoppers and our neighbors as well,” he said.