An interview with social equity activist and entrepreneur Devin Alexander
In an Instagram world plastered with cheap and vapid affirmations, it’s more than just a little bit cliché to claim that you carved your own path or pulled a chair up to a table where there wasn’t already a nameplate waiting for you. That goes doubly in the cannabis space, where nearly everyone in business plants their flag as the first entrepreneur from this or that background to achieve such and such major accomplishment.
There’s nothing wrong with all that hype and hoopla, these are exciting times, but when it comes to building an enterprise outside of the proverbial box, or more specifically beyond the regulations first bestowed on us by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), Rolling Releaf is truly in its own lane, having helped spur a new delivery license class that will benefit innumerable small businesses besides theirs.
With the company’s Devin Alexander and Bryce Hall receiving one of the BCW scholarships, we asked the former to tell us about what it took to get to this point.
What’s your involvement with Boston Cannabis Week?
We got a scholarship that is going to allow us more exposure, and that’s what we’re looking for. We’re going to have a stand at the golf tournament, we’ll be at the entrepreneurship panel, and we’ll have a stand at the Weedmaps block party. I was ecstatic they reached out to me.
What were you doing before Rolling Releaf? Were you on your way to being CEO of a bank or something?
I really don’t think I’d be pursuing anything non-cannabis. I never really had ambitions in high school and college, and then back in 2016 I was working as a budtender at a [medical] dispensary in Quincy, then worked my way up to director of community outreach and started doing community events, beach cleanups, expungement clinics. Then, in October of 2019, I got into the [CCC] equity program as part of the first cohort.
What was that experience like? And how come you wound up kind of in your own lane instead of just trying to open a dispensary?
It’s just a marathon. When I got accepted into the equity program, I was part of the entrepreneurship track. That was 16 courses—everything from business plan creation to advertising and marketing. We would bounce around—our first class was at the State House, another class was at Suffolk University, and another one was at Bunker Hill Community College. And it was while classes were going on, so it gave it that feeling that you’re at an institute of higher learning. And I was with people who I was seeing on the news, like Freshly Baked’s Philip Smith, Ian Woods from TerraSol, and Caroline Frankel from Caroline’s Cannabis—they were all in my classes. I got to sit next to them and pick their brains and see what would be my best path.
What was the bridge between having that education and having the actual brand? And what were some of the stumbling blocks?
When I took the social equity class, that ran from October 2019 to April 2020, and every class that I took had nothing to do with delivery because they didn’t release the delivery regs until May 2020. So everything I learned about delivery I had to teach it to myself. The initial delivery license that they rolled out was delivery-only, and they had it so that you would have to contract with each dispensary, pick up their product already packaged, and anything you didn’t sell at the end of the day you had to give back to the dispensary. I didn’t see that as a feasible business model, so myself and a few applicants in the community created the Massachusetts Cannabis Association for Delivery, which I’m currently the vice president for.
Once we had the association formed, we were able to meet with CCC commissioners and tell them what our concerns were about these licenses. You see, in Massachusetts, delivery licenses are set aside exclusively for equity applicants, so only we can run delivery operations for three years before all the big dogs can come in.
You’re being humble. This has been some impactful organizing. What was the secret sauce?
Timing. We formed the association in June, and they formed the new license type in August . The CCC was holding a public comment period to see what people wanted to see changed with the regulations, and because we stated the three main points that we wanted—being able to go directly to cultivators and manufacturers [for product, as opposed to dispensaries], store product in our facility overnight, and have the [equity applicant] exclusivity period extended to three years from two—when it came time to speak, more than 90% of the more than a hundred people there to testify echoed us.
So, tell us more about Rolling Releaf …
We became the first to receive a precertification for the [delivery operator] license. … and we were also the first to submit our application for a provisional license, which is what we’re currently waiting for. We have our location down in Middleboro, where we have 2,100 square feet and our landlord has 75 acres of land where he’s making a cannabis campus. He’s putting cultivators and manufacturers all on one plot, and he’s giving us space as well. So when we want product, we can either walk five feet to our right, or five feet to our left.
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.