Yamba Market prepares to lead in Central, putting the ‘adult’ in adult-use cannabis
Cambridge, waiting since a statewide vote in November 2016 for recreational cannabis shops, could soon hold the highest concentration of them in the state – and as the first expected to open, Yamba Market takes its role as a leader seriously, a cofounder said.
Yamba Market is expected to open within three weeks at 580 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, as soon as staff and security are trained, chief executive Sieh Samura said Wednesday by phone. The store got its final licensing approvals from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission on Feb. 10 and expects to be followed by the summer by a sister store in Harvard Square called Yamba Boutique, as well as several others.
Cambridge is expecting 12 or 13 such shops, with a half-dozen well underway toward throwing open their doors. (Somerville has a dozen shops in its host community agreement process as well; with its smaller population and land area, it could beat Cambridge in terms of pot-shop density.)
“I welcome it,” said Samura, who’s partnered at Yamba Market with Cambridge attorney and developer Sean Hope. “We’re a headquarters for the cannabis community over here, and everyone else opening up will just strengthen that.”
Being the first to open means that Yamba Market will change the culture in Cambridge and has a chance to undo stigmas around the industry, Samura said. Welcoming in artists whose work will enhance a visit is one way; another is by stocking a product that underlines that adult-use cannabis is truly for adults – Purient Bedroom Cannabis, a THC-infused lubricant meant to improve sex.
The “adult” in adult-use
Purient is the creation of Samura and his wife, Leah Samura, who will lead Yamba Boutique.
While women probably make up more than half of the cannabis market, “there’s very few women actually making products, and very few products that are actually designed specifically for them,” Sieh Samura said, noting that Purient comes with a vaginal applicator. “Cannabis is a vasodilator that increases blood flow and decreases pain and anxiety. It can help people feel more relaxed in the bedroom, but it’s also for women who have pain during sex for many different issues [such as] fibroids. It has a relatively strong formula, which we’re allowed to do with a tincture, and it allows women to apply a high concentrations of cannabis safely to the intimate parts of their body.”
“Adults use cannabis, adults have sex, and adults have cannabis and then have sex, and that’s a fact. We’re normalizing that to remove any type of stigma,” Samura said. “And also we’re jumping into that space first, to lead and say, ‘Yes, cannabis and sex, it’s an adult and a real thing, but there’s a place in the market for it.’ So now we control the sex-and-cannabis category in Massachusetts.”
Purient doesn’t just offer a way of “being adults about it,” but puts a locally crafted product on store shelves – the Samuras’ goal for Yamba Market. “We’re doing local as much as we can” in terms of hiring locally and becoming a proving ground for new, local cannabis brands, Samura said. Massachusetts companies such as Fernway and Coast Cannabis will be welcomed, and it would be “ideal” to have the Kush Groove products by Cambridge’s Marcus Johnson in Yamba, he said, though Johnson works with the nearby Revolutionary Clinics, the city’s medicinal marijuana dispensary. Rev Clinics is expected to join the recreational cannabis market as soon as it’s allowed.
Yamba Market also plans to spotlight the work of area artists, though Samura said the connections are coming through intermediaries such as MindArt, an organization formed by Dorchester’s Wendy “MoMa” Michel. Yamba has committed to work with each talent MindArt brought in, starting with a mural by the graffiti artist Eyevan. Store merchandise designed by the artists is expected too, and there will be a rotating gallery in Yamba’s 5,800-square-foot dispensary where the public can look and buy, Samura said, as well as another opportunity for a mural outside.
The names of other artists working on goods for Yamba were not available through the shop, and Michel did not immediately provide answers about others. Eyevan was the only artist known to be represented in the store as it opens, according to Mind Arts’ Emma Leavitt, as plans with other artists weren’t yet solidified yet. Yamba has also sourced fabric rugs and bowls from Africa, Leavitt said.
Separately, a 750-square-foot community space called Yamba Joint is planned to host events such as pop-ups and artists signings, Samura said.
“You can’t really change culture without creatives. Artists lead communities to new realities and new positivity. So from the very beginning, we’re trying to incorporate them into the market,” Samura said. “We’re trying to create a fun, dynamic public space where people will feel comfortable, happy and relaxed. We’re here to build an environment and have relationships that do positive things. We’re really trying to be a model on several different levels.”
State law set the base number of cannabis stores allowed at 20 percent of the number of liquor stores, which for Cambridge would be eight; that could be changed through zoning adopted community-by-community, and in October 2019 the City Council amended local laws to loosen restrictions.
Multiple shops are seeking to come to Central, Harvard and Porter squares, with a few others scattered around the city.
In a city where 69 percent of voters voters in favor of adult-use cannabis in 2016, a baker’s dozen of pot shops could coexist, said Walter Sullivan, a Cambridge attorney who’s represented cannabis clients. “I think it was five out of 20 people would use cannabis? And I think the number has gone up, because that was a while ago,” Sullivan said, suggesting that a reasonable question to ask about cannabis shops’ viability was: “How do  liquor stores survive in Cambridge?”
“There should be a market for those businesses, especially given the growth of the city and tourism” and that at least 80 communities in Massachusetts have outright barred shops of their own, Sullivan said. “The question you have is them being bunched up in one area – do the demographics in that specific area support the amount of stores?”