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Social equity applicant seeks last Brockton pot permit as corporate storefront sits empty

BROCKTON — The snowy white warehouse building, previously used as a church before it was renovated into a sleek retail store, has stood empty for more than two years on West Chestnut Street in Brockton, emblazoned with the company’s name, Commonwealth Alternative Care.

City officials said they’re now left wondering about the status of the proposed dispensary, which never opened in Brockton after Commonwealth Alternative Care first received provisional approval from the Cannabis Control Commission to open for medical marijuana sales in 2016.

Commonwealth Alternative Care was expected to be one of the holders of the eight recreational marijuana licenses made available by the city, after the city finalized local regulations last year, but the company has not yet come before the city council for approval to sell adult-use marijuana.

Now, as other applicants are knocking on the door, looking for that eighth and final license, the Brockton City Council is putting its foot down, giving Commonwealth Alternative Care until the end of December to come before it with an application for a city permit.

Ian Woods, a Brockton native and Black entrepreneur, came before the city council on Monday night, with a completed application for that eight recreational marijuana license, with plans for financing, security and a property that would be leased and renovated at 702 North Montello St. Ultimately, the council, which is the local licensing body for retail marijuana shops, decided to delay its decision on Woods’ application until Dec. 28.

Woods, the co-owner of Terrasol LLC, is a participant in the Cannabis Control Commission’s social equity program, meant to provide assistance with the approval process to minorities and those most impacted by marijuana prohibition in Massachusetts in the past.

Woods received support from a group of community members who attended the meeting, speaking out for him during the public hearing, and clapping each time someone spoke in his favor.

“We have secured funding from local banks and financial companies in order to fund the establishment of this business, including the renovation of the existing structure,” Woods said.

Woods said he and his business partner, Milton Nasiopoulous, spent “countless” hours preparing their marijuana retail store application, after getting a host community agreement from former Mayor Moises Rodrigues, a contract that is required for all companies going before the Cannabis Control Commission to apply for a state license.

According to the Cannabis Control Commission, Terrasol’s application for a state license remains under review. Commonwealth Alternative Care’s application is also still under review.

Woods was among a handful of minorities provided a host community agreement by Rodrigues, who said he wanted to open the process back up after his predecessor, Mayor Bill Carpenter, provided host community agreements to a group of mostly white businessmen.

More:Rodrigues giving minorities a shot at marijuana businesses

More:Carpenter signed 10 host community agreements for pot shops

Woods said it would not be fair for the city to sit on the eighth license while Commonwealth Alternative Care’s location in Brockton remains dormant, and Woods referred to a part of the city’s marijuana ordinance that states when no other completed applications are available, the Brockton City Council shall review the next completed application submitted for approval.

While another company called In Good Health opened a few doors down in 2015 as a dispensary inside the city’s medical marijuana zoning overlay district on West Chestnut Street, Commonwealth Alternative Care never followed suit, despite holding job fairs in the city during the past two years.

In Good Health opened for adult-use retail sales in addition to medical marijuana last year, making it the first and only recreational pot shop currently operating in the city.

Commonwealth Alternative Care is a directly owned subsidiary of TILT, a Cambridge company that is listed on the Canadian stock exchange and operates around the world providing business services to more than 2,000 retailers throughout Europe, South America, the U.S., Mexico and Israel.

Commonwealth Alternative Care wanted to open at its Brockton location with both medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana sales at the same time, but has been stalled at the state level due to an investigation by the Cannabis Control Commission into TILT’s trying to unlawfully control more than the three retail marijuana stores allowed by state law, according to several city councilors.

TILT reportedly used financing agreements to control several smaller retail shops around the state, in addition to its Commonwealth Alternative Care proposals in Cambridge, Brockton and Taunton, where the company operates a medical marijuana dispensary.

A spokesperson for the Cannabis Control Commission said in an email that the commission would not comment on a pending investigation.

The Enterprise sent emails to TILT representatives seeking comment but did not hear back as of Saturday.

Councilor-at-large Tina Cardoso, supporting Woods’ application, said there’s no reason, legal or otherwise, to reserve the final retail marijuana license in Brockton for Commonwealth Alternative Care.

Cardoso said there’s nothing in city ordinance that states Commonwealth Alternative Care must be “grandfathered” a retail adult-use marijuana license at its West Chestnut Street location, as other city officials have said, as a result of the company’s getting a medical dispensary license before the arrival of recreational licensees.

Cardoso said the city should be supporting minority business people who come from Brockton, not major multinational corporations like TILT, especially since the community has a large Black population. Only one of the other eight city retail marijuana licenses went to a Black applicant, Cardoso said.

“If we’re genuinely interested in equity in this city, which is a majority minority city, a majority Black city, we must do the right thing tonight and grant this license,” Cardoso said. “Voting no on this tonight sends a message that we’re not learning from past mistakes. Voting yes on this tonight sends a message that we care about equity.”

However, others said they are worried that Commonwealth Alternative Care has a rightful claim to the eighth license, based on city ordinance and state law.

Ward 3 Councilor Dennis Eaniri said he fears the city would be sued by TILT if it goes forward with Terrasol instead. The city council’s legal advisor, attorney Shannon Resnick, told councilors that city ordinance grants Commonwealth Alternative Care “grandfather license status,” based on state law, because the company obtained its provisional license for a medical marijuana dispensary before a state deadline of July 1, 2017.

“I want to do it the right way. I want to be fair to everyone involved,” Eaniri said. “It has nothing to do, believe me, with what color, code or creed, or who we are. It has nothing to do with that whatsoever.”

Resnick said she conferred with Brockton City Solicitor Megan Bridges, and they both think that while Commonwealth Alternative Care has a claim to the eighth retail license, they can’t just hold onto the opportunity indefinitely without taking any action to obtain the license.

“We agreed that did not give them a right to sit on their license and not do anything to act on it,” she said.

Resnick also said, based on information she’s gathered, she believes the Cannabis Control Commission will approve a state retail license for Commonwealth Alternative Care in Brockton during a public meeting in the next couple of months.

“They are presently pursuing that license actively,” Resnick said. “From what I read, it looks like they will be approved.”

The city council agreed to give Commonwealth Alternative Care more time, postpone Woods’ license application hearing until Dec. 28, and then decide how to proceed.

Cardoso also pointed out that Commonwealth Alternative Care doesn’t have the necessary host community agreement needed to pursue a city retail license, after the host community agreement issued by Carpenter, the late mayor, expired. It would be up to current Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan to sign that.

However, Resnick said the city would be compelled to sign an extension after the city did so for five other host community agreement holders that required extensions, before they ultimately were awarded retail licenses by the city council earlier this year.

Cardoso and others who spoke in favor of Woods during the public hearing claimed that there’s a conflict of interest at the mayor’s office, involving the family member of a City Hall staffer who previously worked as a consultant for Sullivan’s campaign and worked for a firm that previously represented Commonwealth Alternative Care.

That claim was denied by Sullivan, reached by email on Thursday. And Sullivan said it’s not his role to decide or offer an opinion on who should be granted a license. As mayor, Sullivan said he plans to renew all host community agreements that were issued under previous mayors but have now expired, adding that he has worked with the city solicitor to answer inquiries from numerous applicants, including Woods.

“Any insinuation that I or members of my administration have had a role in this process beyond the clearly defined parameters of the ordinance is completely inaccurate and without merit,” Sullivan said.

Cardoso suggested that the city could expand its current cap of eight retail marijuana licenses to provide greater opportunity. U.S. Census Bureau estimates last year revealed that Brockton recently became majority Black for the first time in city history. Currently, only one Black person, Vanessa Jean-Baptiste, holds a marijuana retail license in Brockton, Cardoso said.

“We know the playing field is not level,” she said. “It’s just a travesty to me.”