When a group of dispensaries in Massachusetts, operating together as a trade association calling itself the Commonwealth Dispensary Association (CDA), sued state cannabis regulators in January of this year seeking to overturn new adult-use delivery rules that give priority for 3 years to applicants most harmed by the war on drugs, the backlash was both instantaneous and sustained.
Within just a few days of that initial community backlash, and after more than 12 members of the organization had resigned in protest, the CDA's anti-delivery lawsuit was dropped and the group seemingly retreated from its attempt to delay or prevent the roll out of the state's new equity delivery operator license type.
That, however, was not enough for advocates and others who felt past actions by the Dispensary Association warranted further community boycotts and picket actions.
The CDA, some advocates noted, had a history of engaging in other lobbying behavior (including working with anti-cannabis politician Rep. Hannah Kane to file a "drug war" task-force bill to target the traditional cannabis market in Massachusetts) that ran contrary to what some in the grassroots community feel are hallowed principles within the regulatory and legislative arena surrounding cannabis.
Said former Cannabis Control Commissioner Shaleen Title, when asked why dropping the lawsuit did not seem to impact the community's perception of the CDA's motives, "It looks like the Massachusetts cannabis community has set the bar for companies higher than just refraining from actively suing to undo progress on equity. They want to see everyone working to make more progress toward the voters' common vision, a fair industry and freedom for cannabis consumers and patients."
As part of that continued boycott, two of the largest local annual cannabis festivals -- Worcester's Harvest Cup and Spencer's TerpTown ThrowDown -- began banning CDA members from participating as sponsors or vendors at their respective events this year as early as February of 2021.
Those announcements, however, apparently did not deter two different members of the CDA from attempting to sign up to participate at the events over the past week.
On March 17th, Harvest Cup administrators announced that they had revoked the registration of an unnamed vendor who was still a member of the CDA in a post that quickly went viral.
"We had to turn away a vendor for the very first time today because they are still involved with the Commonwealth Dispensary Association." Explained the statement, "[a]lthough they dropped their lawsuit against the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission over the state's new delivery rules (only after basically being publicly shamed into doing so), they have proven time and again that they do not care at all about the little guys in this community. You know, the ones who have been fighting for TRULY legal cannabis their entire lives. The ones who have put in the blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes even jail time. The ones who are STILL doing that."
"The Harvest Cup supports the CDA boycott", concluded the message.
Speaking in an interview Tuesday afternoon, co-founder of The Harvest Cup Jenn Borjeson said, "When we first started The Harvest Cup, people questioned us, our ethics, our morals, our goals. Now that we are in our 5th year, I think most of the cannabis community has come to know and trust us. We must hold firm to our moral values - and we cannot just do that when it's convenient! We MUST at least be willing to suffer some consequences - otherwise, we're just blowing smoke (pun intended - ha!)."
"Seriously, though," Borjeson explained, "after what we have all been through this past year we firmly believe we can get through ANYTHING if we stand for what we believe in and work together."
This morning, March 23rd, came a similar announcement from TerpTown ThrowDown that another company (I have confirmed it was a different company than the one involved with The Harvest Cup incident), still a member of the CDA, attempted to sign up to be a vendor at their event as well.
TerpTown's statement also included a claim that the CDA member in question attempted to sign up for the event by making an initial approach through an employee whom did not immediately disclose their connection to the company in question.
In a joint statement from TerpTown ThrownDown co-founders Keith Karrigan and Phil Hardy, the event explained; "On February 14th of 2021 TerpTown ThrowDown made clear in a public statement that members of the CDA would not be welcome to vend at this year's event (a decision we know other events have made as well). This week, we found out that an indvidual approached us on behalf of a CDA company (without disclosing that connection) in an attempt to book a vendor space for our event."
The statement continues, "[w]e want to be clear, when we said that we would not welcome CDA members to vend at our event, we meant it. As a result, the vendor request from that CDA company has been denied. Those companies who wish to vend at TerpTown ThrowDown may leave the CDA at any time, and we will welcome their application with open arms."
Speaking to me in an interview on Tuesday morning, Karrigan and Hardy explained their motivation for taking a public stand and supporting the CDA boycott, "We are, first and foremost about home grown cannabis awards." In turn, the paid said, "[t]he CDA is against homegrowers and does not represent the Community which helped build events like Terptown or The Harvest Cup."
Industry players, in particular CDA members, will no doubt have taken notice after this week's developments and sources indicate more updates could yet be forthcoming.
Devin Alexander, CEO of prospective equity delivery operator Rolling ReLeaf and Vice President of the Massachusetts Cannabis Association for Delivery (MCAD) said corporate operators would be remiss to do anything but take the decision by TerpTown and The Harvest Cup as a direct challenge, "Corporate Cannabis Operators need to understand that when they when they attack equitable provisions and practices in the Commonwealth that is a slap in the face to the very same grassroots community that helped established Question 4 -- from which they have been profiting from for the last two plus years. As a result, [those corporate operators who do so] need to be held accountable for their actions."
Alexander concludes, "The Harvest Cup and Terpdown Throwdown have set the standard moving forward in terms of event planning, I'm hopeful other organizers follow their lead."
It was MCAD, and allied grassroots organizing groups, that ensured the Cannabis Control Commission followed through with the proposed adult use delivery regulations in the face of a lawsuit threat from the CDA in summer 2020 and Mr. Alexander's words no doubt echo the position of many.
This is a developing story and I will continue to provide updates as information becomes available.