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Western Front blazed into Harvard Square last month, becoming the first cannabis dispensary to open in the neighborhood — nearly seven years after Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana.
With the new location, Western Front becomes the first economic empowerment licensed cannabis company to open a maximum of three dispensaries in Massachusetts. The dispensary, which also boasts storefronts in Chelsea and Central Square, sells a variety of cannabis products as well as pieces from local artists.
Marvin E. Gilmore Jr., 98, and Dennis A. Benzan founded Western Front in 2020 through the economic empowerment licensing program, a Massachusetts initiative that prioritizes licensing cannabis dispensaries owned by or employing Black and Latinx residents and people who live in “geographic areas that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement,” per the state’s Cannabis Control Commission.
Western Front celebrated the grand opening of its 98 Winthrop St. location with local music, yard games, vendors, and artists in Winthrop Park on July 21.
“It’s an opportunity for our communities for once to gain some benefit from something that has destroyed communities, destroyed families, and increased the numbers of men and women that are no longer with us, but more importantly are incarcerated as a result of cannabis,” Benzan said at the grand opening.
Benzan dedicated the grand opening to Justin D.C.D. Cosby, who was murdered in Kirkland House in 2009 during a marijuana exchange. Benzan — an attorney and former Cambridge vice mayor — represented Cosby’s mother, B. Denise Cosby, in a civil suit against Harvard.
Denise Cosby spoke at the event about her son and the importance of safe and legal access to cannabis, adding that she is “grateful to know that Dennis has opened up this cannabis center where people can come and purchase marijuana legally.”
“This is not just about selling cannabis,” Benzan said. “This is about making sure that young men and women just like Justin can have good jobs. Rather than do something in the illegal market, they can do something in the legal market.”
Raodee Rekloos — a Cambridge muralist who has worked with Western Front before and painted at the grand opening celebration — said he thinks the cannabis industry is “all culture.”
“A lot of artists have been smoking marijuana before it was legal,” Rekloos said. “It’s just nice now that artists — or anyone in general — just doesn’t have to be shunned for that type of stuff.”
While Benzan said “it feels like a victory in many ways” to be the first economic empowerment company to open three locations, Western Front is focused now on “what lies ahead.”
Benzan said Western Front hopes to see more support from the state and local government to make it easier for economic empowerment businesses to access capital early on and open faster so that they “have an opportunity to be as free as other companies that are not economic empowerment.”
Benzan encouraged consumers to be conscious of where they are making cannabis purchases and to consider the impact of their purchase by shopping at local, minority-owned businesses like Western Front.
“Consciously go to businesses like ours that are trying to do everything that we can within our power to right a wrong,” Benzan said.
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