Cookies — a California-based, minority-operated marijuana dispensary chain – is set to open its doors in Cambridge and occupy the former Staples Inc. space within the Crimson Galleria.
Cookies’s opening comes after the owner of the Crimson Galeria, Raj K. Dhanda, sued Healthy Pharms Inc., a Massachusetts based, non-profit marijuana distributor, in 2017 for attempting to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Winthrop Street. In his 2017 complaint, Dhanda said his businesses had been “substantially injured by a conspiracy to sell marijuana.”
Dhanda has since accepted a settlement to the lawsuit, and this week, he commented on his plans to host the Cookies cannabis dispensary in his Harvard Square property in an open letter to the public.
In the letter, Dhanda wrote that his opinion on the cannabis industry has “evolved” and “prior views [he] had on many aspects of the industry were misinformed.”
Dhanda wrote that Cookies in Harvard Square will be a “great community partner” which is “extremely committed to providing community benefits.” He also wrote that his plans were influenced by the lack of minority-owned cannabis businesses in the city.
“I learned that so few licenses across the entire Commonwealth had been awarded to economic empowerment applicants,” the letter reads. “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.”
“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.
Dhanda said he is enthusiastic about the opportunity to provide space for Cookies in Cambridge.
“Knowing that the new dispensary at the Crimson Galeria will be a minority owned and operated establishment is something we can all take pride in,” he wrote in the letter.
Damond Hughes, the operator of Cookies in Harvard Square, said in an interview Monday that the company has been looking for locations in the greater Boston area for roughly three years.
“When we were actually provided with an opportunity in this Harvard Square location, we jumped at it,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he hopes the dispensary's opening will present opportunities for people of color.
“You want to put people not in just positions to be employees or managers — we would like people to become owners,” said Hughes.
Still, some Cambridge residents are not quite as excited about the prospect of the store opening in the Crimson Galeria. At a community meeting last week, residents supported the opening of the dispensary, but said they have reservations about its particular location in Harvard Square.
Meeting attendees voiced concerns about the increased access young people may have to marijuana, additional exposure to secondhand smoke, and fears that the store’s large windows would widely advertise the product, especially as nearby Winthrop Park is frequently visited by families.
Fine Arts and African American Studies professor Suzanne P. Blier, who is also president of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, wrote in an email to The Crimson that the “100-foot glass facade [would] make this one of the largest retail storefronts in the Square and a massive billboard for cannabis use.”
Blier, who attended the community meeting last week, also suggested that other sites in Cambridge might be better alternatives for the cannabis store.
“We would love, and we tried to get it in our petition, for this to be at a different place, even your Central Square place,” Blier said at the meeting. “There are lots of basements including one in this building and other places around the 2nd floor, or a narrow entry, with something that opens up larger.”
Hughes said he felt there was no better alternative to the Square location.
“What’s wrong with this location? There isn’t a better location,” Hughes said in an interview. “We need a great location. We don’t belong in the basement.”
Blier wrote in an email to The Crimson that the HSNA supports bringing Cookies into Harvard Square but believes the store should not be located near a “family-oriented park.”
At the meeting, Cookies representatives stressed their plans to promote responsible consumption of legal marijuana.
In accordance with Massachusetts law, no marijuana will be visible from the street outside of Cookies, Joseph P. Hanley, an attorney working on the project, said at the community meeting.
Rebecca Adams, an advisor for Cookies, said at the meeting that all entrants will have their identification checked at the door to ensure they are at least 21 years of age, adding that consumption of products on site is forbidden. Motion detectors, video monitoring, and tamper-proof packaging will be in place at the store, she added.
Cookies has also considered several measures to limit queuing to reduce virus spread during the pandemic, including “order-ready” alerts, scheduled appointments, and self-pay kiosks, Hughes said.
Hughes also said Cookies plans to dedicate one percent of gross sales to the creation of a nonprofit charity and to donate to homeless individuals in the Square. At the meeting last week, Cookies representatives said the store will help fund beautification efforts in Winthrop Park and will participate in Harvard Square Neighborhood Association meetings.
Dhanda wrote in his letter that Cookies has “opened [his] mind” to the marijuana industry.
“Their plans to mitigate community concerns and to reinvigorate commercial activity in the neighborhood are thorough and convincing,” Dhanda wrote in his open letter. “Their commitment to community benefits and to diversity, inclusion, and equity is unparalleled among anything I have seen in the Square over recent decades.”
“The time is now to support the minority entrepreneurs, operators, and business owners who are seeking to bring an equitable balance back not just to their industries, but also to the City of Cambridge itself,” he added.
—Staff Writer Maria G. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariaagrace1.
—Staff Writer Jing-Jing Shen can be reached at email@example.com.