Opposition Mounts to Cookies Cannabis Store in Harvard Square

Cookies, a cannabis store, was given the green light to come to Cambridge in September, but some residents are unhappy about the visibility of the real estate the dispensary will occupy in Harvard Square.

In a Sep. 24 letter to city officials and the Cambridge community, The Charles Hotel, Harvard Square Business Association, Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, The Winthrop Eliot Condominium Trust, and The Winthrop Park Trust expressed their opposition to the proposed location of the Cookies store, arguing that the location will increase cannabis use in Winthrop Park.

Cookies is set to occupy the former Staples store space at 57 JFK St. in the Crimson Galeria. In an open letter released in September, Galeria owner Raj K. Dhanda wrote that Cookies will be a “great community partner” for Cambridge.

In 2017, Dhanda sued Healthy Pharms Inc., a Massachusetts based marijunaa distributor, for attempting to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Winthrop Street. At the time, Dhanda said his businesses had been “substantially injured by a conspiracy to sell marijuana.”

The lawsuit has since been settled, and in his September letter Dhanda wrote that “prior views [he] had on many aspects of the industry were misinformed.”

His letter noted that when he realized that very few licenses had been awarded to economic empowerment applicants across Massachusetts, Dhanda decided to support Cookies.

“I knew there was an opportunity to give back to the community, to promote minority entrepreneurship, and to do something bigger than just filling another space,” Dhanda’s letter reads.

Economic empowerment applicants are businesses that receive marijuana licenses from the state through a program that intends to help groups disproportionately impacted by past drug policies.

In September 2019, the Cambridge City Council passed a moratorium giving economic empowerment applicants a two-year window to be the sole operators of recreational marijuana shops in the city. The moratorium was initially lifted in a Middlesex Superior Court. In April, however, an appeals court judge sided with Cambridge and overturned the Superior Court’s decision.

When Cookies Cambridge opens, it will be the first economic empowerment applicant to benefit from the moratorium in Cambridge.

Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan said supporting economic empowerment applicants is “an opportunity to do some justice here” during an interview with The Crimson on Friday.

“It’s a clear matter of justice when the War on Drugs has really harmed communities of color for four decades now, and that includes Cambridge,” he said.

Still, a coalition of local Harvard Square residents, businesses owners, and organizations have said the proposed location is inappropriate for any dispensary.

Signatories of the Sep. 24 letter wrote that Cookies will have a negative impact on the surrounding area because Winthrop Park will become a “landing spot” for Cookies customers.

“At worst, even despite increased security and policing, the Park will become a place where individuals consume their Cookies products after exiting the facility,” the letter reads.

“Families with young children, individuals with respiratory illnesses, the elderly, and many others who do not wish to be exposed to cannabis will be deterred from using a Park that was once so welcoming to all,” it continues.

Damond Hughes, owner and operator of minority-owned Blue Enterprises and Cookies Cambridge, responded to these comments in a letter released Oct. 22.

“To presume that the clientele of our Black-owned and operated business will require additional policing and that they are not capable of following the law by consuming their purchases in private residences are further examples of prejudicial and racist assumptions on the part of the [economic empowerment] opponents,” he wrote.

Hughes said adults cannot legally consume cannabis anywhere in the Commonwealth except on private, residential property. He also added that Cookies will not be the first marijuana dispensary to open near a public park in the city.

“To assume that the patrons of a Black-owned store will not be able to self-regulate or be law-abiding in the consumption of its products — versus the patrons of other previously approved white-owned dispensaries in proximity to public spaces — presents itself as inherently racist and biased,” Hughes wrote.

HSBA, HSNA, and the Winthrop Park Trust rejected Hughes’s criticisms in a letter released Oct. 27.

The organizations wrote that the term “economic empowerment opponents” was misleading as their groups had repeatedly expressed strong support for the program.

“We support economic empowerment and have done so publicly. What we do not support is a recreational marijuana shop located at 57 JFK Street,” the letter reads. “The 45-foot proximity to a family park is particularly problematic given Cookies’ children-friendly, cartoon-laden product marketing (even the name Cookies stems from its flagship product, ‘Girl Scout Cookies’).”

In their Sept. 24 letter, signatories had also expressed concern over the floor to ceiling windows at 57 JFK Street, which they wrote could become a “massive billboard for cannabis use” to those in the park.

In his response, Hughes explained that the store’s products would not be displayed in the window or visible to minors, and that the letter “C” would replace “Cookies” on the store’s signage.

Zondervan said he supported Cookies despite opposition during Friday’s interview.

“There’s this great unfounded fear that people are gonna walk in the store, buy cannabis and walk across the street and smoke in the park, that’s just not the case,” he added.

Zondervan also said that zoning laws passed by the council allow Cookies to open in the Square, despite concerns raised regarding the store’s proximity to the park.

“The zoning that we passed is very clear as to where these stores are and are not allowed to locate, and this store is in the business district,” he said. “There’s no legitimate reason to prevent that from opening.”

—Staff writer Maria G. Gonzalez can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @mariaagrace1.

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