Boston is finally getting its first pot shop.
The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) granted a final license to Pure Oasis Thursday. The approval, which brings recreational marijuana to the state's capital, comes nearly four years after voters legalized recreational marijuana.
Pure Oasis co-founder Kobie Evans says he can't wait to welcome customers into his Dorchester shop in the coming weeks.
"It's been a very long road. So, you know, to finally see daylight is beyond ecstatic," says Evans. "I don't even know if we have words for where we're at emotionally about being at this point. We're excited."
Evans and his business partner, Kevin Hart, have been making plans to open a dispensary since recreational marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2016.
They hit up friends and family for funding. They secured a storefront. And plowed their way through all the paperwork, inspections and permitting.
The business is located on Blue Hill Avenue, in the Grove Hall section of Dorchester. Inside, the shop is light and airy with crisp white walls, a shiny charcoal-colored floor and several plants hanging in the windows.
"The goal is to have a good cross-section of product and have a blend of superior products," Evans says.
There's a separate lobby area so customers can wait inside instead of on the street to enter the dispensary, Evans says. As customers enter they'll see a large green sign on the wall that reads, "Welcome to Pure Oasis. Grove Hall. Boston's First."
"A little presumptuous, but if it didn't work out, then we'd be putting up a new sign," Evans says with a laugh. "But, we're happy to be in Grove Hall. We have deep roots in the neighborhood so we can celebrate that. And we're excited to be Boston's first."
Pure Oasis is also the first marijuana business in the state to benefit from what's known as Economic Empowerment status. That status gives some businesses a faster review of their applications. Those businesses must be owned by, employ or benefit people in communities disproportionately criminalized for marijuana. Pure Oasis is in the group because Evans lives in Dorchester and plans to employ people from the community.
"We're very happy that Boston will be the first place for an economic empowerment designee," says Alexis Tkachuk, the city of Boston's director of emerging industries.
By law, state regulators are required to ensure that groups disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs are part of the new legal cannabis industry. But many economic empowerment applicants have struggled to get through the licensing process.
Some applicants say the local process is slow, burdensome and may not consider equity at all. Some also say corporations are monopolizing the licensing process. Marijuana businesses are required to have agreements — called "host community agreements" -- with the cities or towns where they plan to operate.
Many applicants have called on municipalities and the CCC to do more to improve the process.
Tkachuk says the city of Boston is focused on equity in the industry. Mayor Marty Walsh recently signed an ordinance to prioritize diverse applicants, and provide them resources and assistance. The initiative came as the city faced criticism for moving too slow to approve pot shops.
So far, Boston has signed agreements with 14 marijuana businesses. Three of them are economic empowerment applicants. Tkachuk says several more marijuana stores could open in the coming months, but the roll out largely depends on the state's process.
"It is up to the state to conduct inspections, background checks, to ensure that those who are applying are, in fact, who they say they are," Tkachuk says. "So, the frustrations are understood. However, it is not because of the city moving slowly. We send our applications up to the state and we're beholden to their decisions and their timeline in the process."
State regulators, however, blame cities and towns for the delays some applicants are experiencing.
"We hear that they're having a hard time getting through the municipal process and getting host community agreements," CCC Chairman Steve Hoffman says. "We can't take up a license until there's a host community agreement in place. That's an issue. It's a very important issue, but it's not one that the commission has any control over whatsoever."
There are 122 businesses that have economic empowerment status, according to the CCC. Only 24 have completed license applications, and just eight have received provisional approval from the Cannabis Control Commission.
"I will not argue we are where we want to be. We have a ton more work to do. But I will argue that we are making progress," Hoffman says.
The commission also has a social equity program, which provides training to some applicants. And under new regulations, the commission will waive application fees for equity applicants and give them exclusive access to certain types of licenses.
Having the state's first economic empowerment business open up is a milestone for the commission, Hoffman says.
Evans says it feels bittersweet to be the first — and only — economic empowerment applicant to come this far. He wants to see a lot more businesses like his make it through the process. But he hopes to be an example to other small businesses and minority entrepreneurs.
"We wanted to be the next generation of trailblazers to provide an example to the residents of the neighborhood, to the young people, to the budding entrepreneurs, that, you know, these things are possible," Evans says.
Evans aims to officially open Pure Oasis by March.
This article was originally published on February 05, 2020.
This segment aired on February 6, 2020.