Supporters of the Heritage Club marijuana store slammed the political leaders and the Boston Cannabis Board (BCB) process as being corrupt and stacked against Heritage founder Nike John, a Black woman who is pursuing the license as an equity applicant amidst heavy competition from another more local operator, during a hearing before the BCB on May 12.
The BCB hearing date was stacked with intensity even before the accusations and the testimony began last week, with neighbors in the Lost Village and Councilor Lydia Edwards adamantly against Heritage’s application and in favor of the competing proposal by Resilient Remedies (R2) – which also had its public hearing coincidentally on the same day.
John and her attorney, Phil Silverman, made a short presentation to the Board, their second presentation to the BCB after being sent back to the drawing board last December. John came back now with a new traffic study and without co-owner Maggie Suprey – who remains a friend and supporter of John’s project.
Suprey, in fact, was one of the first to testify in favor of the project, but noting that it was a fixed process and John had been opposed at every turn.
“I received a phone call from a colleague of State Rep. Dan Ryan and Councilor Lydia Edwards who said if I said what I’m about to say there would be consequences and I would jeopardize the Heritage Club’s chances of getting a license,” said Suprey. “It was a fear tactic and a way to try to convince me not to expose the unethical behavior of the power players involved in this process. This process is supposed to be ethical and non-political and sadly that is not the case.”
She also said there had been political contributions from the competition to political leaders in the Town, and alleged it was not right.
“(The competition is) led by political figures and both Lydia and Dan gave them glowing letters of support,” she said. “They are close personal friends and he (R2 owner Jack Kelly) played a key part in her election results. Now I believe the support she is giving him is a scratch on the back in return…The journey of these two groups has not been the same…This is the most blatant display of cronyism and political corruption I have ever witnessed. It will not be ignored.”
That was backed up by other members of the Suprey family, who live in Charlestown, and said they had sent letters of support for Heritage Club and felt John was getting railroaded.
“There’s nothing wrong with people trying to make a business for themselves and support the community,” said Patty Suprey. “I think this is beginning to be a political situation and that isn’t fair. The issue is at hand. The politicians really can’t get involved in this. This is about a company…and everybody should take this into consideration. She is a Black woman trying to do right by the community and people are putting her down. I have also written to Lydia Edwards’s office and stated my concern and my support for (Nike). It seems to be getting to be a one sided issue.”
Said Chris Greatorex, “I am Maggie Suprey’s aunt and I’m very upset about the day (Councilor Edwards) called her a liar. She slandered the Suprey name and that’s not right.”
State Rep. Dan Ryan said after the hearing he heard his name was invoked as being part of a conspiracy against John, and he refuted that.
“I have been made aware that my name was invoked in last week’s hearing,” he said. “I have worked my entire life to make public discourse in our community more inclusive, courteous and fair. These goals are not easily attained. Unfortunately, the heightened community rancor during these deliberations is not limited to only this process and these applicants.
“The next level of scrutiny for these applicants after Boston is the State Cannabis Board, at which point my office will work to ensure that if Charlestown gets a cannabis shop it will have minimal negative impact on the community and the process will follow the applicable rules.”
The scorched-earth policy by those testifying in support of Heritage wasn’t all that different in the surprise opposition offered last year at the BCB hearing for Heritage by Councilor Lydia Edwards. At last week’s hearing, she said she remained in opposition and had been under great pressure to change her views, including being approached at a funeral by supporters.
“I’ve been approached by many people, including at the most interesting times,” she said. “I’ve been approached at a funeral Mass, but I have not been inaccessible for collaboration. The collaboration the applicant wanted was to ID the people in the community and do the work for her. I want her to do the work and go into the community and really talk with people. I do believe Nike is a wonderful woman and a kind woman. I think if people met her, they’d feel the same way. That’s the work Nike needs to do and I have no support from the community demonstrating that work…I don’t believe it’s the right location.”
Charlestown resident Elaine Donovan testified that she believed it had nothing to do with race or political favoritism. She said the opposition comes from the fact that the proposal isn’t right for Charlestown.
“I take offense to the woman that just spoke about Charlestown and everyone being white,” she said. “This is not about color. I’ve opposed this particular location first and foremost because of its size. It is astronomical in size. We don’t have a cannabis shop in our neighborhood now, and the first one in 02129 has 12 or 13 bays and is going to have traffic. Those are our issues… Let’s call this what it is. This particular place is much too large, it is nothing personal against this woman. I’ve been on every meeting and it doesn’t fit 02129.”
Union leader Gabriel Camacho, of UFCW 1445, did register his support as a union leader, but he also said he also said he believes in the integrity of Councilor Edwards.
“I need to add one thing personally,” he said. “I know Councilor Edwards for many, many years. She’s a friend and a valued ally to labor and to immigrant communities and people of color. I had no idea this issue was happening. I hope there is a way this can be resolved.”
Robin Reed, a Heritage advisor, compared the opposition to the forced-busing issue in Charlestown.
“There was zero support for school desegregation in Charlestown when it happened, but I think everyone would look back at it and say it was a good thing,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to desegregate cannabis and trying to support the neighborhood and we are being conscious.”
On the actual issue of the proposal, one of the key reasons Heritage was turned away in December by the BCB was because they had no traffic study. This time they did present a professional study funded and directed by the City. However, that study has been refuted by neighbors who say it only focused on main streets and ignored the side streets – which was their main concern.
Silverman and John said they know the study’s results aren’t what some want to hear, but that is what the City chose to study for her application.
“The project will have no significant impact on vehicular traffic or queuing in the area,” said Silverman. “I know there is at least one critic of the project that wanted the study done in a different way or a different location. I can only respond by saying the City’s Transportation Department told us the intersections where the study should be done and we relied on their expertise in that and the results came in very positive.”