Plus some less offensive local media characterizations of the cannabis industry from this past week
There was a time a few years back when the Boston Globe competently covered cannabis. A lot of the reporting was done by newjacks and some of the output amounted to cheap prohibitionism masquerading as investigative intrigue, but it nonetheless existed and qualified the Globe as one of the top outlets tackling the topic.
Those days are long gone. The reporters the Globe hired to specifically handle the weed beat are memories, as is the paper’s weekly cannabis newsletter. They offer the occasional entrepreneur profile or op-ed mimicking industry voices to make it sound like they have their finger on the pulse of things. But they don’t, and this past week’s much-chatted omnibus feature by Erick Trickey highlights the current cannabis considerations at the region’s outlet of record.
The title ends in a question mark: “Pot prices have tanked. Dispensaries are closing. Is a great crash coming?” But we’re already leaning toward an answer by the subtitle: “It’s been five years since Massachusetts’ first recreational marijuana shops opened. All hasn’t been going entirely according to plan.” From there, the author travels the state in search of a foregone conclusion. Here’s a taste:
Marijuana is now on sale from city storefronts, suburban strip malls, and small-town main streets, from North Adams to Provincetown (plus on the islands). The options are overwhelming: pre-rolled joints, loose flower, vapes, tinctures, gummies, candies, concentrates, lotions, and THC-infused sparkling water. Your friendly neighborhood budtenders are more than happy to talk you through all of them, to match a product to your intended mood.
If you’re already laughing, then prepare to howl. Because with this one, you’re asked to read an article in a Pulitzer Prize-winning paper that includes the following paragraph:
“Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it, judges smoke it, even lawyers too,” Peter Tosh sang in 1976, after leaving Bob Marley and the Wailers, “so you’ve got to legalize it.” Massachusetts did just that, and now we’re living Tosh’s dream — and the long-held dream of every ganja-lover, joint-clipping hippie, giggling Cheech & Chong fan, weed-celebrating hip-hop star, green-thumbed grower, Amsterdam cafe tourist, and joker-smoker-midnight-toker.
Aside from so much stoner sensationalism and the author relying on some nonsense anecdotal sources like “one couple I know [that] keeps a jar of edibles on their liquor shelf,” Trickey’s facts and contacts are sound, save for quoting former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson saying he was the first Massachusetts elected official to endorse marijuana legalization—in 2016! With much love for Jackson and his truly impressive Apex Noire dispensary, that simply isn’t true. And similar to how running that comment ignores contributions from the likes of former US Congressman Barney Frank and state Rep. Ruth Balser, who were calling for legalization more than a decade ago, this Globe piece in question brushes over those who are doing quite well under current market conditions.
Please, holster your pitchforks. I’m more aware than most of the struggles faced by the businesses noted in Trickey’s flawed but thorough feature. What I’m saying is that with any other industry, the proudly capitalist Globe would celebrate clear winners rather than commiserating. I’m sure that Trickey and perhaps even his editors had solid intentions in highlighting Social Equity licensees who are hurting; certainly I regularly do the same. But there are also many smaller businesses that aren’t having the same pains and which didn’t fit the narrative. If the feature were about anything else, though, from food trucks to biotech startups, those are the companies the Globe would have gagged itself gawking over.
Of course, this broad brush approach would be less offensive if not for the influence the Globe unfortunately still commands. From the proliferation of aggregated versions of the story to social media threads fueled by little more than headlines since most people haven’t even read the article behind the paywall, this stuff sticks. Forms a narrative. Even though there’s much more accurate and nuanced info out there. I won’t link to it, but I’m sure that more than a few hard-working commonwealth cultivators recall the Globe hit piece claiming most Mass adult-use weed is bunk and all the damage done by that one.
From where I’m standing as someone who covers this corner of cannabis daily, more on point than the Globe’s treatment is this recent feature via Business West. The honesty is right there in the headline: “It’s Getting Harder To Succeed In This Sector — But That Was To Be Expected.” Though it also harps on horrors of the game at this critical juncture, the article gets deeper into the actual details of why companies are failing. Here’s a sample:
“There’s a survivability factor we’ve written about from day one. We were the second adult-use-only store in Massachusetts to open [in Lee], and there’s definitely a sort of glory time which happens with every new market, where the demand outstrips the supply, and businesses are just opening their doors and slinging weed,” Erik Williams, chief operating officer at Canna Provisions said. “They saw pie in the sky, and they have not operated their business with real-time controls over every dollar they’re spending. It’s a tough thing.”
Simply put, too many cannabis businesses in Massachusetts based their business plans on supply-and-demand figures that no longer exist, he added. “There’s a lot more competition. The pie is always growing, but competition is far outstripping the growth of the pie, so you’re seeing price compression.”
This piece from last week in Worcester Business Journal is also full of details. Titled “Tainted,” it covers how “cannabis testing firms say unclear rules are potentially putting unsafe marijuana products on the shelves.”
If you consider the crisscrossing controversies on the testing front—along with the state of the Cannabis Control Commission and the failure of the state to substantially help cannabis entrepreneurs from disadvantaged backgrounds up to this point—there is a case to be made that this grand experiment is tanking. But the Globe didn’t convincingly make it, and as the lead promulgator of so-called objective journalism around here, I’m pretty sure it’s not their job to publish predetermined we told you so hatchet jobs in the first place.