Behind One Boston Dispensary’s Upcoming Week Of Free Cannabis Ed

Sessions will address “topics that seem disparate on the surface, but that must all come together in order to form a cannabis business”

As we noted following their big announcement earlier this month, Boston’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion is teaming up with Rooted In—a Newbury Street-based dispensary with 55 local investors, “of whom 96% are of the BIPOC community”—for a “week-long educational journey through the ins and outs of owning and operating a successful cannabis business” from June 12 to 18.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, with organizers covering a wide range of topics including “licensing and regulations, marketing and branding, product development, financial management, and more.”

We’ll be checking out some of the sessions in June, but first we reached out to Rooted In Co-Founder and COO Brian Keith ahead of time to see what’s going into this joint education operation … 

Chris Faraone: First of all, how did this partnership between a dispensary and the city come about?

Brian Keith: The City of Boston and its Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion have a charge to make Boston a global model of economic equity for working people, entrepreneurs, businesses, and investors. Cannabis implementation in the City of Boston lives within this department. 

Earlier this year, the city [put out a Request For Proposal] to bid to bring a week-long series to Boston, which would highlight ways regular folks can learn to start their own cannabis businesses, or otherwise be involved in the process. Rooted In is excited to have been chosen to execute this RFP, and look forward to showing the public how we brought our business to a point where we were able to commence operations. 

During the week-long series, Rooted In will also work with vendor partners and other industry professionals, who will share their knowledge and experiences.

What was the initial idea? What did your joint team feel needed to be addressed with a series like this?

It is important that through this week-long series, participants are not only exposed to high-level conversations such as panels and speaking engagements but that participants are able to roll up their sleeves and experience, on an interactive level, the ins and outs of the industry. We will discuss topics such as the history of criminalization and legalization, but will also dive into subjects such as financing, marketing, hiring, zoning, and more; topics that seem disparate on the surface, but that must all come together in order to form a cannabis business, or any successful business for that matter. Participants will be allowed to see how their application travels through the different departments in Boston City Hall and meet and interact with the officials in City Hall handling their paperwork, as well as experience the back-of-house operations of an active dispensary.

There are different forms of cannabis businesses education out there, but certainly not enough. What specifically did you feel was missing?

Free, hands-on training is of the utmost importance. Our goal is to highlight and pull together resources offered by the City of Boston, the Cannabis Control Commission, nonprofit organizations, and resources that are available to the public that many folks are not aware of. We will offer tangible take-away items that attendees can action or follow up on.

How did your team come to the decision to offer these courses for free? Why is that so important?

The type of courses and conversations Rooted In will offer during this week-long set of modules would normally be an expensive ticket given the speakers, venues, and activities we have in store. Through a generous grant provided by the City of Boston, we are able to offer all of the activities during this week-long event, free of charge.

It is important to us to offer these activities for free because the communities most impacted by the war on drugs are the communities with the least amount of resources and disposable income to take part in events such as this for a fee; events such as these which can work to jumpstart a business. Without free opportunities such as this, communities that the City of Boston and the State of Massachusetts wish to uplift will likely be left behind.

How are you going about focusing your series on potential social equity applicants and reaching that group in particular?

We recognize that everyone consumes information differently. Our goal is to reach as many interested individuals as we possibly can, and therefore will be using an “all of the above” marketing strategy in an effort to be in front of as many people as possible. Through engagement with specific non-profit organizations in the community, grassroots groups, dedicated email campaigns, social media platforms, and advertisements in local newspapers, we hope to tap into multiple networks and meet people where they are. Additionally, we will provide informational documents to the City of Boston as well as the Cannabis Control Commission so that they may assist us in getting the word out for this week-long series through their deep and targeted networks.

There has been a lot of talk about the lack of funding for businesses, as well as the troubles that even many big businesses are having right now. What are some ways this programming will address these constantly changing issues?

Cannabis is a nascent industry, which is progressing through a traditional life cycle rapidly. The speed at which the industry boomed is currently catching up with it, and therefore the industry finds itself in a state of transition. Increased supply is driving prices lower which is great for the consumer, but the lower prices are difficult for many retailers due to the interest on the debt it takes to start a business like this remains high, the “cannabis premiums” placed on real estate remain static, and competition increases daily.

All of these factors lead to very difficult circumstances for retailers who are not prepared. There are of course positives on the horizon, but also the real difficulties that will be with us for many years to come. The programming will work to ensure participants organize their businesses to be successful in a difficult climate; discussing issues such as corporate structure and cannabis taxation et al—topics that are not typically top of mind—laying out the facts of the industry now and as we move into the future.

How are you going about catering to everyone from the newly entrepreneurially curious to people who are already in the business and/or are looking to go from working at a cannabis business to opening one?

We have organized the modules in a manner sequentially parallel to what the Rooted In team has found is paramount as it pertains to building a cannabis business from the ground up. We recognize that one of the hardest steps to bring a business out of the concept phase is actually taking that first step. We have organized speakers, panels, and interactive workshops in this week-long series which will encourage participants, no matter the step of the process they are in, to continue on with their goals by providing knowledge and resources. 

Finally, what should people know ahead of time, how can they prepare, and what is the future of this initiative beyond this week of free classes?

We want anyone interested in the cannabis industry, no matter where they stand in the approval process, to register for the seminar that is best suited for them—folks can participate in the entire week or just specific segments. Our goal is to provide as many resources as possible so that the attendees can benefit from the time engaging with the speakers and each other. 

Knowledge is power, and once a participant has the knowledge we hope to impart to them, it can’t be taken away. We hope that through the knowledge gained from this week-long series, participants will have the tools they need to complete their process. If we are successful, and participants feel they have received benefits from their presence in the modules, if the opportunity presents itself in the future, we hope to perform this service on an annual basis.