From regulator gossip to wholesale musical chairs and storm protection
We interview a lot of people around here. From regulators to cultivators, new consumers to experienced boomers. Their comments power our reporting, but not all of their words can be used.
With instability afoot and cannabis industry workers bouncing between companies at a remarkable pace, a lot of insiders have seen successful as well as awful cannabiz practices played out. Whether they’re willing to impugn their past employers on the record, on the other hand, is another story.
I’m not a fan of tabloid gossip, but I understand why anonymous ideas can help push a story forward. I have no agenda here, and will probably pursue all of these points in the coming months and consult willing sources with anecdotes, but for now I wanted to share these notes from the past few weeks—including many from NECANN Boston in March—to stoke the conversation.
Smaller multi-state operators (MSOs) are well positioned to weather the storm
Not like this is some huge secret, but you won’t find employees of microbusinesses nor enormous national operations on the other side of the spectrum making the concession. Giant companies got that way via giant investments, and for many, it’s come to the point where banks and lenders need to get paid. That reality has already trickled down to everyone from major real estate firms to small vendors getting screwed, some with millions in receivables and no pay day in site. As for mid-sized, smaller multistate operators, if you will, many of them are ducking for cover, keeping prices down, growing and selling their own weed, and waiting for the coast to clear. In the meantime, they’re happy watching the behemoths fall and get their balls kicked in all day by activists on social media.
Social equity applicants are leading the way
There are still some big-money Mass cannabis players that privately curse state and municipal regulations that gave companies owned by applicants hurt by the drug war certain advantages, including but not limited to the first chance to open delivery operations and, hopefully one of these days, social consumption businesses too. At the same time, it seems like even some despicable bottom-line driven bigots have come to accept that social equity entrepreneurs aren’t just here to stay, but that they have ideas and influence that are in some ways more powerful than the PR firms and lobbyists hired by MSOs. Such realizations have led to everything from national brands anxiously looking for locals to collaborate with, to political partnerships that will pave the way for the future of the industry.
The CCC scares the hell out of us!
There are children of people who work in the Mass cannabis industry who fear not a standard cloak and hatchet bogeyman, but rather the hideous regulator monster that mommy or daddy dreads and derides at the dinner table. Whether that characterization is warranted or not, there’s nothing that people want to talk about more but only as long as it’s way off the record than the topic of regulations and those who enforce them.
For those who aren’t up to speed on the soap opera in Framingham, last week, MCR Labs CEO and Founder Michael Kahn accused the Cannabis Control Commission of “harassment” and “intimidation” during an unannounced inspection of their facility on March 21. Furthermore, Khan cited his critique “of the commission’s approach to regulating independent testing laboratories during my presentation at NECANN on March 10th” as the impetus for the inspection.
The MCR case is an extreme example, but even for those who are simply waiting for the CCC to inspect and move their licensing forward, operators tell us that communicating with the regulators feels like calling an illicit market dealer back in the day who told you they were 20 minutes away two hours ago.
Do you need any weed?
Six months ago, I asked some cultivators if they might be interested in helping with a line of inexpensive mids, potentially retailing for as low as $10 an eighth. Even MSOs basically laughed at me, giving reason after reason why it wasn’t feasible. Fast-forward to last month, and two of them reached out eager to talk. At this point, everybody realizes that there’s simply too much weed in the pipeline, and there’s only going to be more as new cultivations open and fresh harvests commence. Still, there’s no understating just how many thousands of extra pounds are just laying around. (And no, I don’t have a line of dimebags to promote just yet, but I do recommend the upcoming CannaFlower Show, which we are sponsoring in Worcester on April 25, for any licensed cultivators, manufacturers, or buyers who are looking to pick up or unload.)
More than anything else, people are simply saying, shit, fuck, and damn, and are looking for answers, wherever they may be. I’m not trying to be harsh when I say that it blows my mind how many cannabis businesses clearly exist on the sole premise that some group of people thought selling recreational weed was a guaranteed slam dunk. That’s not really working out for everybody, is it?
To summarize what one insider and analyst with a history in chain restaurants told me in conversation last week: a lot of dispensary owners come from the finance world, and in finance you navigate valleys and slumps differently than one ought to in a competitive retail environment. So instead of adjusting and marketing and bringing in clever new products to get customers coming and coming again, the tendency is often to just buckle down, fire valuable employees, avoid low prices, and wait for the gray days to pass.
The question is whether they can hold out that long.