“We don’t want your money — we want the same shot you got,” said Taba Moses, an activist and entrepreneur who grew up in Cambridgeport and hopes to open a marijuana shop in the city, addressing the dispensaries. “If we lost this, companies could threaten to sue and bully their way in and say, ‘we have the right to open up no matter what,’ Now, people are going to say, ‘those who were hurt most by the war on drugs have a right to open up first.’ It lets people organize community by community, state by state.”
The ordinance was opposed by a handful of other empowerment applicants — mostly those with close ties to Cambridge’s medical dispensaries — who said they would have preferred the funding over the lack of local competition. “I see relationships with existing market participants like [the dispensaries] as the fastest way to market for economic empowerment applicants,” said Sieh “Chief” Samurah, an empowerment applicant who developed a product for Sira Naturals and called the moratorium “antibusiness.”
Some medical marijuana patients also testified against the Zondervan-Sidiqqui plan, arguing that a delay could shutter the dispensaries and cut off their access to needed medicine. Dispensaries “may be looked at as ‘big business,’ ” said Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance president Nichole Snow, “but it still would not be in the public’s interest to shut down an outlet patients have relied on for years.”
The debate prompted practically unheard-of animosity in Cambridge, with business owners and advocates on both sides accusing one another and city councilors of being shills for larger dispensary companies.
Tensions escalated earlier in the summer when the dispensaries hired a consultancy specializing in creating “grassroots” support for corporate-friendly policies, and brought several dozen supporters to a council meeting wearing “PATIENT” T-shirts and armed with scripted testimony.
Siddiqui said she believes Cambridge will be able to mount a strong defense against any lawsuits, noting that cannabis commission guidance recommends prioritizing empowerment applicants.
“This is something I’m willing to get sued on,” she said. “This industry comes with an ugly history of racial oppression that needs to be addressed.”