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Proposed cannabis business sparks opposition

Avery Bleichfeld
Proposed cannabis business sparks opposition
A plan to site a cannabis delivery business in Grove Hall has sparked the ire of neighbors. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

Local religious leaders and community members gathered Nov. 9 to object to the proposed construction of a cannabis warehouse and courier service that would be built in Grove Hall.

The storefront, located at 415-417 Blue Hill Ave., used to house Nu Life Natural Herbs, a health and wellness store, and Nova Sheen, a dry-cleaning business. Both businesses were owned by Minister Don Muhammad, a local religious leader whom opponents of the cannabis warehouse called a pillar of the community.

According to a plan presented at an Oct. 27 community meeting, the cannabis business would serve as the offices of EnRoot LLC, which would run a delivery service for its own cannabis products stored at the Grove Hall site, as well as work with other Boston dispensaries to act as courier to deliver other products to consumers.

Under the licenses they have applied for, James Kinney, Brian Keith and the other owners of EnRoot would not have any customers coming into their location on Blue Hill Avenue.

Reverend Randy Muhammad, leader of Muhammad Mosque No. 11, said at the Nov. 9 press conference that he thinks there are enough drugs in the community already.

“We feel we do not need any more drugs proliferating in our community,” Muhammad said. “We’re already suffering a crisis that we see right down the street, down on what they call Methadone Mile, Mass and Cass, where we’re looking at our people who are suffering the ravages of addiction.”

He said he worries that bringing more cannabis use into the neighborhood could increase levels of addiction, both to marijuana and to other, harder drugs.

“We are witnessing that our people have become addicted to cannabis in its various forms, whether it’s smoking or it’s edibles, whether it’s oils or any other concoction that they can come up with to package this cannabis,” Muhammad said.

According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, about 30% of cannabis users experience marijuana use disorder. Some subset of those users will experience addiction, which is differentiated in that the person cannot stop using cannabis even though it interferes with many aspects of their life. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Marijuana Research Report, about 9% of cannabis users may experience addiction, though the report notes that estimates of the number are controversial.

Muhammad also expressed concern about the role cannabis could play as a gateway drug, where use of marijuana could precede the use of other harder drugs.

NIDA’s report says some research indicates that cannabis can serve as a gateway drug, but also says that other hypotheses exist alternative to the gateway-drug theory, and that most people who use cannabis do not go on to use more harmful substances. According to the report, more research is needed to explore if cannabis is a gateway drug.

Michael Kozu, co-director of Project R.I.G.H.T., said he worries about the traffic that another cannabis business will bring to the area. Pure Oasis, the first recreational dispensary to open on Boston, is right down the street at 430 Blue Hill Ave.

“Of all the places to put a courier service, with a lack of parking, a lack of access — it’s really going to aggravate conditions that many of these residents already face,” Kozu said at the press conference. “Blue Hill Avenue is very busy. Warren Street is very busy. People cut down Devon Street. People cut down all these sides streets and are really putting young people at risk. We can’t even get ‘Yield to Pedestrian’ signs for these crosswalks along Blue Hill Avenue, because they get run over by reckless drivers.”

In the Oct. 27 meeting, Keith, one of EnRoot’s owners, said the team has an agreement to use eight parking spots in the lot next to the storefront, three for the delivery vans they plan on using and five for employees at the warehouse.

Keith also said they plan to pay for a traffic study, which he said he thinks will show little effect from their business. He committed at the meeting to not opening the business until they have contracted spots for employees elsewhere.

Throughout last month’s public meeting, community members voiced opposition to the project, saying that they do not want to see another cannabis business in Grove Hall.

At the press conference, Sister Yvette Muhammad, the eldest daughter of Don Muhammad, said she thinks it will be a negative influence on the area.

“I don’t care if you’re dropping it off or smoking it here, it is not what our community needs to have,” Yvette Muhammad said. “And in the name of my parents, in the name of my brother, in the name of this community — which needs life — we need better than a cannabis shop that when we eat, smoke, rub it or whatever, our mind is altered. We need a community in which we can be better.”

She and others also objected to the business on religious grounds. Islam prohibits the use of cannabis, and multiple community members at the meeting commented on the property’s proximity to various religious institutions in the area.

Keith spent the October meeting arguing for the benefits he said his business will bring. Under the proposed plan, they would bring at least 39 jobs to the community. Keith said they would prioritize hiring Grove Hall residents and especially people of color. Finney, another of the business owners, said in the process of starting their business, they plan to give $100,000 to “worthy causes” in the Grove Hall community. Those funds currently are not earmarked and do not have a specific destination yet.

Keith said he hopes to get community feedback so they can make a business that is most palatable to members of the community, but he said that not putting their business there at all — something multiple community members called for in the public meeting — was a “non-starter” for him.

“I live in Roxbury, just like many of you live in Dorchester and Roxbury. We know that buildings get built with no community support; we know that things come to the community with no community support,” Keith said. “So, the reality is, do we need community support? No. Would we love your support? Would we love to amend our project so it’s more reflective of what you would want to see from a business like ours? Yes.”