Why has Boston been so slow to license cannabis stores?

Why has Boston been so slow to license cannabis stores?

BOSTON — The City of Boston has come under fire for its slow rollout of recreational cannabis shops.

And now several city councilors want to level the playing field for smaller operators who can't afford the expensive licensing process.

In a hearing held Tuesday, city councilors questioned whether the requirements for applications is fair to small business owners who would like a chance to launch their own company.

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Critics say Mayor Marty Walsh’s licensing process favors big businesses since banks are not allowed to loan money to cannabis firms.

One of the mayor’s top officials said the city should consider approving equal numbers of larger investor-backed companies and those owned by local residents, minorities, and women.

Both councilors and small cannabis business owners testified that the city’s current licensing process is slow, complex and favors the wealthy. The system might also benefit those who can afford to sit on prime properties and hire well-connected people to move the licensing process along.

"If, in fact, we were to open up the flood gates, there’s no question we would have people ready to open today," Boston Chief of Economic Development John Barros said. "But they would not represent the demographics of our city."

Because the mayor's office has the authority over local licensing, Boston city councilors are suggesting the city take a look at Somerville's approach to the process.

Somerville recently passed an ordinance that grants alternating approval to established medical marijuana businesses and companies owned by local businesses.

Mayor Walsh, who opposed the ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis sales, said the city's first recreational pot shop could open early next year, but there is still a lot to iron out.

Read more Mass. Marijuana stories
Read more Mass. Marijuana stories