Kobie Evans, left, and Kevin Hart own Pure Oasis, the first cannabis store to open within the city limits of Boston. Says Evans: “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: These things are possible.”(Courtesy of Pure Oasis)
Rejoice, Boston! The wait is over.
More than a year after the first recreational cannabis stores opened in Massachusetts—and more than three years after the state legalized adult-use marijuana—Boston’s first legal shop, Pure Oasis, is set to open this week.
The Dorchester shop, at 430 Blue Hill Ave., is expected to welcome its first customers at 11 a.m. Monday morning.
Pure Oasis has an additional distinction: It’s the first store to receive a license through Massachusetts’ Economic Empowerment Program, which provides support for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
“The war on drugs has been harsh on our community in so many ways,” Pure Oasis co-owner Kobie Evans said at a recent press conference. “I am very pleased we can take an important step forward to bring cannabis out of the shadows and share the benefits with our customers.”
Progressive program, slow rollout
When Massachusetts legalized marijuana in 2016, it became the first state to include a plan to explicitly assist minority-owned businesses, through the Cannabis Control Commission’s Economic Empowerment Program. Other legal states have rolled out similar programs retroactively, but Massachusetts was the first to incorporate it into the state’s regulatory structure from the start.
The program has been criticized by some for its slow rollout. Others have questioned its efficacy.
“Statewide, the voters have clearly called for legalization to be carried forth in a manner that promotes equity, but on the municipal level, from Brockton to Cambridge to Western Massachusetts, equity is being sabotaged,” Real Action for Cannabis Equity co-founder Richard Harding told the Associated Press last year. “Fairness is not being achieved in the process, and it is certainly not being achieved in the result.”
Still only 30 stores statewide
As of this February, only ten Economic Empowerment businesses had been granted provisional licenses out of the 260 licenses granted statewide. For context, there are currently 30 stores open around the state, and only one in the Boston suburbs.
Beyond license application fees—which can run up to $60,000 and were recently eliminated for equity applicants—a major sticking point for aspiring entrepreneurs has been the Host Community Agreements (HCAs). A cannabis company must complete an HCA with its local municipality before the business can be approved for a license. State law allows a municipality to tax a business’s gross sales, up to 3% over five years.
“We hear that [Economic Empowerment license applicants are] having a hard time getting through the municipal process and getting host community agreements,” Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steve Hoffman told WBUR. “We can’t take up a license until there’s a host community agreement in place…It’s a very important issue, but it’s not one that the commission has any control over whatsoever.”
Co-owner is a Dorchester local
Evans, a native of the Dorchester neighborhood where Pure Oasis is located, and Kevin Hart, who grew up in Baltimore and Virginia, were friends before they were business partners. Evans is a real estate agent, and Hart is a health care practice manager.
According to a WBUR interview from last year, the two men began exploring the idea of going into business together shortly after Massachusetts legalized cannabis in November 2016. Their interest was born in part by witnessing the injustices of the war on drugs firsthand.
“Growing up, I can visibly remember walking down the street and being slammed into a storefront by police, being asked for ID just because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Evans recalled. “Many of my peers faced the tough risk of selling drugs because of the lack of employment opportunities due to discriminatory practices,” he added. “Many of the kids I grew up with ended up in jail, and some of them are still there.”
Tough to get that HCA done
Evans also reflected on the arduous process of getting licensed, including challenges surrounding the HCA. “We want Massachusetts to be in favor of small, local, minority-owned companies,” he said, “but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Last November, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed an ordinance requiring half of all stores in the city to locate in neighborhoods impacted by the war on drugs. The measure is meant to boost economic opportunity in those neighborhoods.
Evans and Hart are doing their part to be community-centric. They’re hiring from within Dorchester itself, where 40% of residents are African-American. Pure Oasis especially encourages individuals with criminal records to apply. They currently have a limited staff but intend to expand to 30 employees when they reach full operating capacity.
Monday’s the day!
After years of hard work and preparation, Pure Oasis is finally set to open its doors on Monday, March 9. Lines are expected to be long. Boston Police officials are encouraging shoppers to take public transportation.
“It’s been a very long road,” Evans said in a separate WBUR interview. “I don’t even know if we have words for where we’re at emotionally about being at this point. We’re excited.”
With their first store finally opening, Evans and Hart are already looking to expand. They have plans to open two more locations in the Boston area.
“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,” Evans said. “These things are possible.”