Cannabis conflict: Hempest’s move into recreational marijuana causes trouble for co-owner’s family

  • The Hempest on Conz Street in Northampton. The store recently added recreational marijuana to its offerings, a move that caused trouble for co-owner Jonathan Napoli’s wife, Kim Napoli, who lost her job as director of corporate and social responsibility at Parallel, parent company of the New England Treatment Access dispensary just down the street. STAFF PHOTO/GRETA JOCHEM

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2021 7:48:43 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When Hempest co-owner Jonathan Napoli got state approval a few months back to begin selling recreational marijuana at his Conz Street store, he figured it would be a simple transition. For years the shop had sold products made from cannabis plants, including hemp products.

But after receiving the OK to proceed from the state Cannabis Control Commission, Napoli ran into a problem with the dispensary just a few blocks down the street, New England Treatment Access. His wife, Kim Napoli, was fired from her position as director of corporate social responsibility and community affairs at Parallel, NETA’s parent company, for allegedly violating the company’s conflict-of-interest policies, he said.

“She made the company aware of what was happening and everything seemed fine,” he said. “When we actually opened, that is when she received the termination notice for the conflict.”

Taylor Foxman-Weiner, spokesperson for Parallel, confirmed that Kim Napoli no longer works for the company.

“Kim’s husband’s business recently opened a cannabis dispensary that directly competes with our nearby dispensary in Northampton,” a statement from Parallel reads. “Our company Conflicts of Interest policy does not allow Kim to continue in her current role. Kim has contributed much to our organization, and we want to thank her for all she has done.”

Foxman-Weiner said Parallel was commenting for NETA, “as NETA is a subsidiary of Parallel.”

The termination was first reported by The Boston Globe’s cannabis writer, Dan Adams. Jonathan Napoli said his wife did not want to take questions. “She’s not going to be talking about the situation,” he said.

Leading light

Kim Napoli was a key figure in the campaign to legalize marijuana in the state.

“She decided to get her law degree because she wanted to legalize cannabis in Massachusetts,” her husband said.

She was the outreach director for the Yes on 4 Campaign, the group behind the ballot question that successfully legalized recreational marijuana, and Gov. Charlie Baker appointed her to the Cannabis Advisory Board. Jonathan Napoli said he thinks she was the only Black woman on the NETA leadership team.

Foxman-Weiner wrote in the company’s statement that “she was among many Black women in leadership positions across all areas of the company, including in key roles in legal, marketing and HR.”

In her role at NETA, Napoli worked on making the industry more equitable.

“She helped a lot with diversity plans, positive impact plans, that kind of thing,” Jonathan Napoli said. She created NETA’s Security Equipment Grant Program, for example, which supplies funding for security plans and equipment to economic empowerment and social equity program participants, according to NETA’s website.

She’s been a supporter of expanding marijuana delivery regulations, she said on her Instagram page, writing that “I look forward to continuing the work to create generational wealth and opportunity for Black, Latino, Women, Veteran, Indigenous, and everyone falling under the social equity umbrella in the cannabis community and beyond.”

She worked for NETA, then Parallel, for about five years, Napoli said, and the only warning she got before she was fired was being placed on administrative leave.

“The Hempest has been in Northampton since the year 2001 … Since before NETA was there, we were there,” Napoli said. “Nobody made any secrets. You can’t keep it a secret,” he said, noting that obtaining a license from the Cannabis Control Commission and signing an agreement with a city or town are public processes.

The Hempest also has a store on Newbury Street in Boston.

In November 2018, the Hempest entered into a host community agreement with Northampton, and more than two years later, it got state approval and made its first adult-use marijuana sale in February — making it the fourth shop in the city to do so.

‘Sad to see’

The firing news sparked Holyoke dispensary Boston Bud Factory to post on social media about boycotting NETA. “Sad to see how some companies treat their employees,” it wrote on its Instagram page in late March.

Shaleen Title, a drug policy activist and former member of the Cannabis Control Commission, reacted to the news on Twitter. “Why do companies think it’s okay to treat women like they’re disposable?” she wrote. “Do they think no one is watching?”

Napoli does not think that his business represented a conflict of interest with his wife’s role.

“The conflict was the other way. Kim and NETA would have benefited from my knowledge. I’ve been in the legal cannabis industry in Massachusetts longer than NETA has been open.”

He doesn’t see NETA as a competitor, he said.

“I look at them as being in the same industry, we’re all trying to get this industry off the ground,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat … I think some people at the corporate level of their parent company don’t get that. It’s all about money for them. That’s too bad.”

In late February, Atlanta-based Parallel, owned by chewing gum heir William “Beau” Wrigley Jr., announced plans to merge with Canada’s Ceres Acquisition Corp. and become a publicly traded company. The merger values Parallel at $1.88 billion, according to Reuters.

Family focus

The firing came at a difficult time for the Napoli family, who live in eastern Massachusetts. In the fall, their 7-month-old daughter, Shea, was diagnosed with pediatric leukemia and has been getting treatment for months. The family has raised more than $30,000 in a GoFundMe to support Shea’s treatment. The fundraiser notes the couple “will alternate between caring for Shea at the hospital and caring for their 3 kids at home ... with Kim at the hospital for the nights and Jon … (at) home for the days.”

Napoli said he hopes Shea will be able to come home over the summer. “She’s a trouper. She’s been going through the treatments,” he said. “She just turned 1 in the hospital a month ago.”

Though he sees his wife’s firing as unfair, Napoli said, “I think she will land on her feet and she will have a great future in the cannabis industry, somehow, some way. Or she will be working on practicing law,” he said.

For now, the couple is focused on Shea’s recovery, Napoli said. “The other stuff is small stuff at this point.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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