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Massachusetts Judge Lifts Cambridge Marijuana Moratorium

Cambridge City Hall in Central Square, where debate has taken place on the proper use and sale of marijuana in Cambridge.
Cambridge City Hall in Central Square, where debate has taken place on the proper use and sale of marijuana in Cambridge. By Steve S. Li
By Maria G. Gonzalez, Crimson Staff Writer

A Middlesex Superior Court judge lifted Cambridge’s two-year moratorium on certain cannabis sales permits in a ruling Friday.

The moratorium — passed by the Cambridge City Council in September 2019 as part of the Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance — gave “economic empowerment candidates” a two-year window to be the sole operators of recreational marijuana shops in the city.

The measure was intended to help businesses run by people who have been disproportionately harmed by past marijuana laws — primarily individuals from “Black, African American, Hispanic or Latino descent” — according to the Cannabis Control Commission.

The Commission is the state-level entity tasked with overseeing the use and distribution of medical and recreational marijuana.

Massachusetts voters approved the sale and regulation of medical marijuana in 2012. “Adult-use” or “recreational” marijuana was legalized in 2016. Cambridge approved full marijuana legalization by an “overwhelming majority of 71.6%” in 2016.

In October, medical marijuana dispensary Revolutionary Clinics filed a lawsuit against the City of Cambridge in order to block the moratorium, arguing that “Cambridge exceeded its express limited authority to regulate cannabis business” when the City Council passed the ordinance in September.

In an interview Tuesday, Revolutionary Clinics CEO Keith W. Cooper ’83 said the moratorium interfered with existing laws implemented by the Commission.

According to Cooper, stores that entered the business early to serve medical patients — at “pretty high risk” — benefited from the ability to convert their stores into recreational marijuana shops.

Cooper said the previous rule was a “reward for both the investment in the medical business and the risk that was taken.”

“It was also an opportunity to expand the business more quickly because we would have been vetted already with the medical program,” he added.

Cooper said he believes the moratorium restricted his business’s ability to benefit from a recreational marijuana license.

Although city councilors had discussed the ordinance for months prior to its passing, Revolutionary Clinics did not know about the moratorium until “pretty late in the process,” Cooper said.

On Friday, Jan. 24 — two months after the lawsuit was filed — Middlesex Superior Court Associate Justice Kathleen M. McCarthy granted the plaintiff a preliminary injunction. In doing so, the court prevented Cambridge from imposing the two-year moratorium on Revolutionary Clinics and other marijuana dispensaries.

McCarthy’s decision prompted backlash from some business groups in Cambridge. Real Action for Cannabis Equity, an association created to support business owners from underrepresented backgrounds, called the preliminary ruling “a shortsighted infringement on the civic duty and right of local municipalities to prioritize equity” in a written statement released Saturday.

“The preliminary ruling ignores the systemic racism, incarceration, and criminalization of black and brown people that plagued the marijuana prohibition period,” the statement reads.

The court’s Public Information Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cooper said that Revolutionary Clinics will work with “economic empowerment” applicants in order to make the marijuana business more accessible in the future.

“The first thing I did when I found out on Friday was start to reach back out to the city to let them know that we weren't just going to forget about this victory and forget about those things we told them we cared about — which is growing up equitable industry,” Cooper said.

“We are going to get back at the table to help economic empowerment candidates in Cambridge alongside of us,” he added. “We're not just going to take this victory and turn our backs on that program, we're going to actually support it.”

—Staff writer Jeromel D. Lara contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Maria G. Gonzalez can be reached at maria.gonzalez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariaagrace1.

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