The building under construction for EnRoot, a planned cannabis delivery and courier company, on Blue Hill Avenue. David L. Ryan / Globe Staff

The proposal has created an annoying political dilemma for city leaders, including the new mayor: should the city give a group of applicants from marginalized communities access to the lucrative cannabis industry, which in Massachusetts is dominated by white corporations? Or should it heed the warnings of Muhammad’s family and other faith and community leaders who have worked for decades to keep drugs out of the neighborhood?

“Marijuana is not that harmless drug that people are trying to distribute,” said Minister Randy Muhammad, leader of the 11 Muhammad Mosque, the Boston headquarters of the Nation of Islam, lamenting that there is already one block Block away a cannabis retail store is one way.

Minister Randy Muhammad, outside the EnRoot store on Blue Hill Avenue.Minister Randy Muhammad, outside the EnRoot store on Blue Hill Avenue.David L. Ryan / Globe Staff

Speaking at a press conference with fellow community activists and clergymen last month, Randy Muhammad said the proposal undermines half a century of work by the now retired Don Muhammad, who worked with police, political leaders and other black clergy to rid Grove Hall of drugs and lay the foundation for economic development. Don Muhammad often worked on these efforts from his physical stores, which included dry cleaning and were among the oldest black-owned businesses in the area, Randy Muhammad said.

“To redesign this place, which was a beacon of hope, we find outrageous and disrespectful,” he said.

But applicants say they want to give the neighborhood access to the wealth that the growing cannabis sector offers. South End-based entrepreneur James Finney teamed up with the co-founders of Rooted in Roxbury, a minority-owned cannabis retail company, last spring to launch the delivery business called EnRoot in town. Roxbury couples Brian and Joanne Keith and Solmon and Rokeya Chowdhury founded Rooted in Roxbury in 2019.

They point out that the state cannabis law has so far not failed in its goal of helping communities harmed by the “war on drugs”. Only 16 of the state’s 194 companies that have opened cannabis factories are owned by applicants for equity and economic empowerment, a category for candidates from communities that suffered disproportionately during the war on drugs.

Brian Keith, co-owner of EnRoot, a planned cannabis delivery and courier service on Blue Hill Avenue, was standing inside the building that is being built. Brian Keith, co-owner of EnRoot, a planned cannabis delivery and courier service on Blue Hill Avenue, was standing inside the building that is being built. David L. Ryan / Globe Staff

“In communities like Dorchester and Roxbury, people have been locked up for carrying, consuming, or distributing cannabis,” said Brian Keith, a sales manager who ran unsuccessfully for District 7 city council in 2017, wanting them to be locked out of this emerging industry will.”

Rokeya Chowdhury said that neighborhood business owners have a nuanced understanding of community needs that larger cannabis companies may not know.

“People just expect to meet these white corporate people, but they are really surprised that we are young families raising young children,” added Chowdhury. The Chowdhurys also own the Indian-Bangladeshi Shanti restaurant chain with restaurants in Dorchester, Roslindale and Cambridge, as well as the Dudley Cafe in Roxbury. “You don’t want the Massachusetts cannabis industry to be flooded with corporations. It should also be people like us. “

The courier service is rooted in Roxbury’s newest playing field. An attempt to open a cannabis store in Nubian Square was rejected by the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal due to concerns about traffic, youth exposure to cannabis, and the attraction of people from the homeless camp in moderation. and Cass had. Roxbury, rooted in Roxbury, is also seeking licenses for shops on Newbury Street and near Downtown Crossing.

How long the building was empty is unclear. Solmon Chowdhury bought the property in February 2021 for $ 400,000 from Don Muhammad’s son Don Jr.

If the Grove Hall license is approved, applicants said, customers in Boston could order products either from EnRoot’s proposed Blue Hill Avenue warehouse or from another Boston cannabis company. Buyers would not be admitted to the Grove Hall location so personal buyers would not be walking in and out, they said.

However, other prominent Black clergy are not comforted by such assurances, including Rev. Gregory Groover of Charles Street AME Church, Imam Taalib Mahdee of Masjid Al Qur’an, and Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Dorchester.

“If they want to deliver food, books or computers, we’re all for it,” said Culpepper. “But we’re not there to store or deliver marijuana.”

Just up the street on the opposite corner is Pure Oasis, the first empowerment claimant-owned cannabis retail store to open in Massachusetts. At the time, Culpepper said that it was only after approval was given that religious leaders were informed of Pure Oasis’ arrival in the neighborhood.

Pure Oasis draws cannabis customers from near and far. Co-owner Kobie Evans said that while the equity seeker initiative opened the industry to more people of color, it also resulted in companies ending up “on top of each other.”

The Pure Oasis storefront at 430 Blue Hill Ave.  EnRoot is just down the street.The Pure Oasis storefront at 430 Blue Hill Ave. EnRoot is just down the street.David L. Ryan / Globe Staff

“We would like more of these companies to be spread across town rather than a concentration of companies right on Blue Hill Avenue,” said Evans. “But we support as many people as possible to get started in the industry.”

City development laws require a half-mile buffer between cannabis companies. However, if a business proposal is within the framework, such as with EnRoot, applicants can apply for a deviation or exception to the Zoning Board of Appeal.

The owners of EnRoot held a required township meeting in late October on their proposal. The three-hour virtual meeting attracted comments from dozens of people, including Yvette Muhammad, the daughter of Don Muhammad who has now retired from public life.

The Nation, a black nationalist religious and political organization, sees drugs as an instrument of repression by a racist white establishment and has fought illicit drug trafficking in neighborhoods across the country to empower black people.

The nation has drawn sharp criticism and condemnation for its anti-Semitic and anti-gay teachings and rhetoric. Although Minister Don Muhammad was closely associated with one of the organization’s most controversial figures, his predecessor in Boston, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad also forged relationships across racial and class lines to fight street crime and promote the economic empowerment of blacks.

Minister Randy Muhammad and Yvette Muhammad, the daughter of Minister Don Muhammad, stood at the entrance to the EnRoot store on Blue Hill Avenue.Minister Randy Muhammad and Yvette Muhammad, the daughter of Minister Don Muhammad, stood at the entrance to the EnRoot store on Blue Hill Avenue.David L. Ryan / Globe Staff

The business that the Mohammeds ran were lively meeting places for the community, recalled Yvette Muhammad; Nova Sheen offered dry cleaning and flooring. And his wife, Shirley Muhammad, ran Nu Life, providing iridology and other alternative medicines to clients.

When the co-owners presented their business model at the community meeting, Yvette said she felt like she was “stabbed in the chest.”

Yvette Muhammad, now 66, remembered learning to count changes as a child and meeting the community leaders in her parents’ business. “My parents worked there every day and hired people from the community.”

The co-owners of EnRoot said they would also provide good jobs for colored locals.

Joanne Keith (left) and her husband Brian Keith are co-owners of EnRoot.Joanne Keith (left) and her husband Brian Keith are co-owners of EnRoot.David L. Ryan / Globe Staff

“As People of Color, we can now be owners, operators, investors, employees – not just consumers,” said Brian Keith. “We have to think bigger”

Ed Gaskin, executive director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, said he is “not against” and hopes EnRoot would fulfill its promises to contribute to the community.

“We’re interested in any commercial activity,” said Gaskin. “I’d rather have something in there than an empty building.”

However, others have raised traffic, crime and health concerns.

“It’s not a good location for courier services,” said Michael Kozu, co-director of Grove Halls Project RIGHT, a non-profit organization focused on neighborhood development. “We have met a number of pedestrians in the area and they will cause more accidents.”

Applicants say EnRoot would have on-site parking for three electric delivery vehicles and five parking spaces for employees. In addition, EnRoot has hired a third party to conduct a traffic impact analysis in the coming weeks, said Brian Keith.

The proposal requires approval from the Boston Cannabis Board and a deviation from the Zoning Board of Appeal, as well as approval from the state Cannabis Control Commission.

Former incumbent Mayor Kim Janey, who had returned to her city council seat in District 7 at the end of her term, was unavailable for comment, but Brian Keith said her office had put a letter of rejection to regulators.

Wu’s office did not want to say whether the new mayor supports or rejects the proposal, nor did Wu give a clear position when asked about the project on Monday. However, Wu said the city should stop making “one-off” decisions that pit communities or parts of a community against each other.

“We need a comprehensive, proactive approach to planning that really takes into account all of the different priorities our communities have,” said Wu. “These two situations shouldn’t contradict each other.”

Tiana Woodard is a Corps member on Report for America, which covers black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.