The contagious spirit of CNA Stores: “We sell good weed, sure, but you gotta participate.”
As I approached CNA Stores in Haverhill on a recent weekday afternoon, one of the security guards was cleaning the parking lot, walking around with a small bag to collect trash.
I’ve always known this as the dispensary where some of the workers literally built the counters they serve from, but I hadn’t expected to see such dedication on display from the moment I landed.
Over the course of my time spent there, I came to understand that CNA’s role in the North Shore communities of Haverhill and Amesbury (where its stores are based) is no act. From their keeping a sparkling lot and facade to various programs they spearhead and participate in, it’s “just part of the culture,” according to Scott Winters, their director of business development and community outreach.
With flurries in the forecast, one of the things I’d specifically come to ask about is CNA’s Snow Angels program, in which their employees shovel out about 25 residents in Haverhill and about 25 more in Amesbury, most of them seniors and veterans.
“We have a trailer, we have four snowblowers, we have a truck,” Winters said. “I’m proud of it.”
A lot of dispensaries pitch in, but CNA seems to give back as gospel. They’re cultivating what they call a “cannabis community of giving,” which includes a Charity Jar program intended to “introduce the local nonprofit organizations supported at the Amesbury and Haverhill locations to its loyal customers, and to encourage them to contribute to their fundraising efforts.”
Since opening, CNA Stores customers have collectively contributed in excess of $164,000 for organizations, largely focusing on those that benefit veterans and the environment. More than 25% of CNA employees are US military vets, and their patriotic homage runs much deeper than just store decor. Last year alone, they brought in more than $100,000 and were recognized by the Amesbury Council on Aging “for their dedication to helping older adults in the community.”
“Every month, we have a charity of the month that we choose as a team,” Winters said. “The customers get change back at the point of sale, and they can put that change in [to the dish for charity].”
The charity for January is the SGT Jordan M. Shay Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit that works to honor the last wish of its namesake who was raised in Amesbury and lost his life in Iraq. As the organization explains, “In a ‘just in case letter,’ [Shay] clearly stated that if something should happen to him that a scholarship fund be started in his name for students who ‘want to make a difference in the world.’”
“People talked a lot of trash about us pot smokers, and it means a lot to be able to say that these pot smokers gave this much money,” Winters said. The community outreach director isn’t among the vets on staff, but said he’s “built to serve.”
“It’s culture,” Winters said, “it’s who we are.”
The spirit is contagious, and CNA is partnering with other brands and cultivations too. Root & Bloom, which is based nearby in Salisbury (and whose outstanding hairy orange Angry Ginger Bud I grabbed an eighth of in Haverhill) is donating 50 cents to the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center (VNOC) for every product sold at CNA Stores.
As CNA expands—first with a cultivation in Amesbury that is near-completion, followed by a third dispensary they’re opening in Dorchester—they plan on getting even more involved. For starters, they’re building a secondary vault at the new North Shore site for a social equity business to operate out of.
Asked about the breadth of their efforts, Winters noted how Rob DiFazio, the CEO of CNA Stores, was philanthropically involved long before he entered the dispensary business. Similarly, Winters started the Snow Angels initiative on his own way back in 2015—before bringing the idea to CNA and, as he proudly highlighted, “before weed was legal.”
“I just jumped in and started digging people out,” said Winters, who worked as a visual designer for 26 years before joining CNA. His own shoveling was put on hold after a life-changing motorcycle accident, but with the CNA team beside him he was able to return with more plows and muscle than ever.
“We have certain staff members who volunteer for every single [snowstorm],” he said.
“We sell good weed, sure, but you gotta participate. … You gotta help out.”
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.