The Advocates: Checking In With Those Looking Out For Social Equity Applicants

“The waiting game is rigorous, and people are losing a lot of money.”

When we first spoke with Derrell Black in September 2020, the Mass cannabis advocate was already heavily involved with Minorities for Medical Marijuana and that group’s efforts to help people get a foothold in the industry. Needless to say, the same issues preventing many people of color in particular from becoming stakeholders persist, and so it’s important to regularly check in with those doing the work. As luck would have it, I ran into Black right after he spoke on a panel about social equity and where the Mass cannabis community stands in that regard at this point in time.

“The waiting game is rigorous, and people are losing a lot of money,” he said. Still, Black sees where some fixes are possible. He added, “I was looking at some stats, and there was $118 million in 2021 in state sales tax revenue [from cannabis products up to that point], and we have no idea where that money is. I have to ask [where it’s going], and we have to go to our local municipalities and ask them to fund a lot of good people and a lot of organizations that do this work, like ELEVATE Northeast.”

Black and M4MM’s current focus: “Advocacy, education, and workforce programs.” He added, “I also have an experimental learning program with [cannabis physician and consultant] Marion McNabb. We are focusing on internship programs, apprenticeship programs, and we tour facilities to get the proper information.” It all plays into his larger mission: “I look at it as bringing as much education and information into the community as possible, and also getting funding for programs that are around trying to help with social equity, things of that nature.”

Regarding the current job market, Black said, “It’s crazy, there’s always hiring. Every dispensary is always hiring.” But it’s not that simple. He continued, “There’s always this need for diversity and inclusion, but no one goes through the proper channels and actually calls the organizations doing this work. You can give me a shout on Facebook or Instagram, I do a lot of educational forums, one of them we do every six weeks. We’re just trying to get the information that some people are charging so much money for, and to bring it to [areas that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs].”

On the veteran front, meanwhile, Mass is fortunate to have a model operation in CNA Stores, which runs dispensaries in Amesbury and Haverhill. We spoke with Director of Business Development Scott Winters about their unique philanthropic business.

“The guys and gals who are working in the store built the counters,” Winters said. “That’s how we hired—we got our core staff, got them into construction [roles], now some are working as budtenders, and as cultivation comes around, we’ll take it from there.”

CNA started with just five employees at the beginning of 2020; currently, they’re at 45 people. And they’re building a pipeline.

“For veterans, we support two groups—Mass Fallen Heroes, and VNOC, Veterans Northeast Outreach Center,” Winters said. “That’s homeless veterans, and we’re helping build tiny homes to go along with our cultivation site. … We’re also working with a nationwide mortgage lender to improve their credit. We have a program called [Zero to 60], that’s homeless to home ownership in 60 months. As a guy who used to live on the street, that’s pretty aggressive, so we’ll see how that works.”

If there’s a crew that can pull it off, it’s CNA. Last year, staff members did 460 community service hours and have delivered more than 17,000 cases of food during the pandemic. They also have a project where they dig seniors out of the snow, including at a home for veterans of course.

“When I say veteran owned,” Winters said, “I mean it.”