Aaron and Janelle Goines, the owners of prospective Wareham Delivery Operator firm "The Emerald Turtle", have seen first hand the nuances, challenges and agonizing activism that come along with applying for a cannabis license in Massachusetts.
That bifurcated application process, involving both approval on the local level by way of something called a Host Community Agreement (HCA) followed by a state-level provisional/final license structure, has been highlighted by many as an example of systemic barriers that undermine access to ownership opportunities in the state's nascent cannabis market for those communities that were most directly targeted by the decades long racist drug war (designated by the state as "Social Equity" or "Economic Empowerment" applicants).
In fact, the State's Cannabis Control Commission was so concerned about the disparity in license ownership between equity and non-equity companies, apparently as a result of that process along with other factors such as access to capital, that a 3 year period was created during which all delivery licenses would be made available only to participants in the state's Social Equity or Economic Empowerment programs.
And while that priority was an important step, other benefits on offer to those equity applicants, such as expedited license review, only kick in once an application comes before the Cannabis Control Commission...something that cannot happen until a Host Community Agreement is signed.
That HCA document, say hundreds of applicants, also happens to be the single most difficult part of obtaining a cannabis license for a number of reasons (not least so because local cities and towns are under no obligation to take into consideration equity priority status when choosing how to go about issuing those agreements on the municipal level).
Today however, at least for the Goines, there is hope that long journey to an HCA is soon coming close to an end.
Next Tuesday, April 20th at 7:00PM the Wareham Board of Selectpersons will reportedly be considering a potential approval of a Delivery Operator Host Community Agreement for The Emerald Turtle, a company run by the Goines family.
Were the approval to happen, the company would be only the third such Delivery Operator given a Host Community Agreement in the state and the second of such companies that are Black-owned.
Following quickly on the heels of another HCA approval for a Black-owned Delivery Operator last week in Middleborough, owned by Devin Alexander who serves as Vice President alongside Aaron and Janelle on the Board of the Massachusetts Cannabis Association For Delivery (MCAD), pressure is quickly mounting on the State's Cannabis Control Commission to finalize the state level application process for those Delivery Operator Licenses as quickly as possible.
Currently, applicants like the Goines and others have been waiting with bated breath for a public announcement from the Agency indicating that the next step of the process, referred to as a "pre-certification", will begin.
Depending on the timeline as to when those applications are made public, and when the first applicant is able to advance from pre-certification through to final licensure, it is entirely possible that the first such Delivery Operator company will be operational sometime in Q4 of 2021.
That such a light at the end of the tunnel is visible was, at once point, unthinkable.
An Untraveled Path:
Just 12 months ago, the Cannabis Control Commission had envisioned a format for adult use delivery in the state that would have functioned akin to only an "Uber-eats" courier model; local equity companies would have been able to own a small number of cars, store them in a warehouse, and then pick up orders (at retail price) from brick and mortar dispensaries. That would have allowed those equity delivery companies to make their profit only on the delivery fee charged to customers.
That model however, said the Goines and others throughout the Spring and Summer of 2020, was not only untenable but also seemingly setup in a way that would make it impossible for any such courier to operate for even 6 months before running out of capital.
In turn, Aaron and Janelle (alongside a number of their fellow advocates, including Devin Alexander) began to speak out at public meetings, in discussions with Commissioners, on local social media programming, in newspapers and anywhere else that people would listen, with a simple message; a second model for adult use delivery in Massachusetts was needed, and input on what that model should look like needed to come not from the large corporate brick and mortar stores that dominated the existing market, but instead the group of local equity applicants who would actually be operating those delivery firms.
In perhaps the strongest testament to the efficacy of grassroots advocacy that has been seen in years, just four months later, in November of 2020, the CCC would go on to approve that second model, the Delivery Operator License, as advocates and applicants broke out in cheers of celebration.
The Courier model would remain, said the Commissioners, but the new Delivery Operator License would allow equity applicants to purchase a warehouse/vault, buy products from cultivators/manufacturers, store that product in their vault and then provide deliveries directly to consumers from their warehouse.
Not everyone was thrilled, however; in a fateful move, it would take only until January of 2021 before a trade group made up of brick and mortar cannabis retailers, the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, would file a lawsuit against the new delivery rules.
The group's lawsuit asked a Judge to void not only the existence of the delivery operator license, but they even went as far as to ask for a ruling that would void the equity priority period for all delivery licenses (including the uber-ears courier licenses). Brick and mortar operators, they argued, were entitled to own their own delivery licenses and begin delivering right away.
That approach, however, did not sit will with the state's highly engaged grassroots community who quickly staged a national boycott of all 40 or so companies in the CDA.
Less than 7 days later, and after 12 members had resigned in protest as to the lawsuit being filed, the CDA announced the lawsuit was being dropped and, just like that, the Goines, Mr. Alexander, and so many other advocates had done something long since lost to the dustbin of American history; they fought corporate America, on their turf, and won.
The Next Steps:
With the end of that long road so close in sight, the Goines' will no doubt be looking forward to next Tuesday's hearing with unrelenting focus.
For their family, this big moment is one that certainly comes well earned.
However, with more hurdles to go before the finish line, there will no doubt be only the briefest of respite before Aaron and Janelle are once again looking forward to the next step in the application process.