I’ll slice right past the niceties: Some people are less than amused by the emergence of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association (CBA). Many of these longtime marijuana users and culture crusaders are skeptical and even a little baffled by the idea of a CBA or any other commercial industry trade organization. Such entities are seen as everything that many activists have feared for years—an establishment group encroaching on what’s long been anti-establishment territory. You might call it a turf war.
Our crew understands such hangups more than readers may realize; fact is we could have sold out long ago, which would have rendered DigBoston (and Talking Joints Memo by extension) useless in times like these, when robust inspection of these issues is essential. Nevertheless, and I say this as someone who opened industrial-sized cans of whoopass on the Mass Department of Public Health during its insultingly procrastinatory rollout of medical marijuana, most participating parties—from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, to recreational license applicants I have met—seem to at least want to do what progressives might call the “right thing.” That goes from their providing opportunities for those hosed by the war on drugs to prosper in the rec world, to making sure that Massachusetts doesn’t end up with the kind of cockeyed system that favors a few distributors and honchos at the expense of consumers, as is the case with alcohol in this state.
With that said, I hope both skeptics who have followed the Dig’s coverage on cannabis, as well as those who are new to this world and do not understand that so much promising behavior in this state comes only after several decades of advocacy and frustration, can understand that we are moving in the right direction overall. And while the CBA, the CCC, and countless other groups and entities will absolutely be impugned accordingly, their movements thus far have been as unique as they are notable. On that prompt, whether you are in the application process to open a marijuana business or you’re just hotly anticipating legal weed across the commonwealth, the comments CCC Chair Steven Hoffman delivered at the first CBA meetup, held Tuesday at the UMass Club on Beacon Hill, may offer the most insight to date into how far Mass has come on this adventure, as well as into how far we still have to go. Here are some especially relevant outtakes from Hoffman’s 20-minute speech …
ON THE MASS CBA
“I really don’t believe that the relationship between the regulatory body and the industry has to be adversarial. It is really clear that our objectives are not identical … but we do share one very important common objective, and that is we all want to this industry to be successful.”
“Our context is unique. … There is a stigma around this industry. We all need to recognize that, not necessarily accept it. Unfortunately we cannot regulate a stigma away. We cannot legislate a stigma away. The only thing that is going to end the stigma around this industry over time is that people see these are professional well-run businesses.”
“[A regulated cannabis industry] is controversial, in case you haven’t figured that out. The voter initiative … was not a landslide, and I can tell you that there are equal passions on both sides of that debate. I don’t think either side is going to give up those passions anytime in the near future.”
“There are a lot of people out there who are rooting for us to fail. And for this industry to fail. I think we all need to recognize that as we go forward. … There are some people, not a small number, who don’t want us to succeed.”
ON METRICS AND ACCOUNTABILITY
“Clearly some of the criteria for success in this industry is going to be: Are people who are providing great product for their customers making a return on investments? Are they creating jobs? … Are we creating entrepreneurial opportunities for people who have great ideas and a ton of energy and are willing to take on a risk?”
“We must have a tangible, quantifiable, and positive impact on public safety. There is nothing more important than to measure and prove quantifiably those metrics.”
“Preventing access to those who are under 21 years old is absolutely non negotiable.”
ON BANS AND BUSINESS
“We need to work with cities and towns around the state, and I think some of you know that is challenging. You can’t control that, but what you can do is build and run professional businesses that are assets to the communities in which they operate.”
“Banking is a big problem and it’s one that I’m concerned about. … From a public safety standpoint, the experience in other states that preceded us is they were all-cash businesses and over time, as bankers and the states are seeing that these are professionally run businesses that are doing what they say regarding public health and public safety, then the banks come in. The commission is trying to speed that up, but while there are some things we can do, one thing we can’t do is force anybody to enter this industry.”
“This has to be a diverse industry in terms of racial diversity, in terms of gender diversity, in terms of ethnic diversity. If you look at other states that preceded us, they haven’t done a great job. We have to work on that. We have to do better. It’s got to be inclusive. We as a commission are held accountable, and if we are not performing well on those measures, we need to go back to the legislature and say what do we need to do differently.”
“We are willing to meet with and listen to anybody. We don’t promise to agree, we don’t promise to do what you tell us, but we promise to meet with you and we promise to listen and we promise to take you seriously.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.