The origins of the respected local newspaper Berkshire Trade + Commerce stretches back to the mid 1980s, when it was originally known as the Berkshires Business Journal. And because of the age we live in, it’s worth noting that this is a local business-focused newspaper covering Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Such papers continue to be the lifeblood of information and news for small communities like in the Berkshires.
So it was with a sense of colossal pride that the venerated journal chose Canna Provisions COO Erik Williams to be the first voice from the blossoming legal recreational cannabis industry in the Berkshires, speaking directly to the business and trade community. (We have reproduced the column here, with the online version in PDF form available on the Berkshire Trade and Commerce website on page 10.)
It should come as no surprise, at least to anyone who’s been paying attention since Massachusetts’ legal cannabis industry launched with the passage of Question 4 in 2016, that in 2020 the commonwealth topped $1 billion in adult-use cannabis sales.
As the Cannabis Control Commission – the regulatory body overseeing the industry (whose rules and exhaustive regulations don’t always make sense, but we’ll get into that) – said via Chairman Steve Hoffman: “This sales milestone represents licensees’ ability to successfully support a safe, accessible and effective adult-use industry, and I am pleased the resulting tax benefits will have a significant impact on communities throughout the commonwealth.”
He’s correct, but he buries the lead a bit. Yes, the resulting tax benefits have had a significant impact, particularly here in Lee. After all, if you own a home in that town, your low property tax rates for this year remained stable as a direct result of the tax contributions of Canna Provisions (the town’s lone recreational retailer, which opened on July 5, 2019). Such first-year tax revenue from legal cannabis sales only underscores the residual impact that cannabis tourism (i.e., people traveling within the state to visit marquee cannabis stores with compassionate dispensary management and top-shelf customer service) has had on businesses in Lee and the greater Berkshires.
Realtors, lawyers, hardware stores, doctors, advertisers, contractors, printers, massage and physical therapists, accountants and more have directly benefited from the throngs of consumers pouring into the region – some specifically coming here to better their journey in Wellness Country where the great boon of living in a state with safe, legal, easily accessible products in a COVID-vigilant environment is a reality. Compared to other regions in the state, Berkshire County has set the bar high with regard to the wellspring of activity, entrepreneurship, and community building we have come to be known for in legal weed.
And who would have thought just over four years ago that legalizing cannabis would lead to the integration of its business owners and community members to be welcomed into legacy community organizations. Years back, it would have been unthinkable to have someone associated with cannabis joining, say, the local chamber of commerce. (Editor’s note: the author is a member of the Lee Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors).
In the end, participants in the cannabis industry – its entrepreneurs, employees, and partners – are in no way different than the businesses that have been here for years. They support local charities, collaborate with local farms and family businesses for special events and attractions, and volunteer time and money where needed for communal benefit.
But therein lies the rub: Cannabis is just like any other business, and nothing like any other business at the same time.
First, know that we all share the same long-running regional concerns as legacy businesses; many have been amplified by the fact that most of us are still start-ups (it’s a new industry) and all of us are in growth mode. Attracting young persons and top talent to western Massachusetts is a frustration we share with legacy businesses, despite common notions that the pot trade is a “fun” and an exciting emerging industry with lots of professional growth opportunities. Which it is.
Finding suitable housing for transplants relocating here is another concern we share with our fellow businesses (especially amidst the pandemic-driven “great migration” currently upon the region). However, our own modest needs and difficulties pale in comparison to the greater housing shortage for lower wage employees in the Berkshires, as well as their limited public transportation options.
Another problem: Lack of high-speed internet access and bandwidth across the region, which only hampers business operations in the region (not to mention the new normal of remote schooling). And, like it or not, reliable high-speed internet access is a significant factor in deciding where to live, let alone establish a business.
When working with cannabis businesses, understand that our customers are your customers as well. Our clients span all demographics in age, gender, educational level, race and income. Surprising to most is that our average new cannabis consumer (or “canna-curious” as we call them) is over 50 years old! Couple that with the fact that we can easily have 2,000-plus customers a day and it becomes even more evident that we serve the same people. Our employees are the customers of the local businesses, from gas station to restaurants to antique shops to banks, and we specifically encourage them to frequent establishments that are local and accepting of us. In times like these, supporting one another is a currency more valuable than gold.
And it’s that support we ask for in return, if only because we may need to do things a bit differently from other businesses. For example, there are unique tax codes that apply only to cannabis business. And the specific classification criteria for business units, entities, and employees represent a sore spot of unjust regulation that all Massachusetts cannabis businesses feel at some point or another.
As a reminder, cannabis ventures are not simple, cheap or easily profitable. They can bear fantastic economics, but not without great risk and usually several years of development before the first dollar rolls in the door (and the first tax check is cut). We pay tremendous amounts of taxes to the commonwealth, our host municipalities and the federal government, and have tremendous costs associated with being a highly regulated, licensed business. That’s the law. We must be generous to employees and the community as a part of said licensure, and the industry takes pride knowing it can and often does pay a livable wage for work that until recently was considered illegal.
Unfortunately, many potential vendors and service providers come to us with prices that include a hefty mark-up from their normal pricing – referred to in the industry as the “green tax.” We at Canna Provisions have been in this game too long to pay that, and we keep an exhaustive list of those folks who try to take advantage of us based on their misconceptions. As the industry becomes more normalized, those who tried to (or actually did) add that “green tax” will end up left out of participating in this growing sector.
Stepping away from the industry specifically, our executive team personally looks like any other company’s and is made up of individuals with extensive business and financial experience and acumen – most of whom have already enjoyed long and successful careers in other industries. Most importantly, we are people who care deeply about our community and want to be partners.
At the time of this writing in early December, the U.S. House of Representatives has just issued a landmark ruling after voting to federally legalize cannabis with the passage of the MORE Act. While it remains to be seen if it will have the ability to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, the vote is nonetheless a signifier of the sea change of opinion toward cannabis as a plant, an industry and a means to economic recovery.
We couldn’t agree more. We have made a massive, long-term commitment to – and investment in – the Berkshires because its natural resources, arts and entertainment, commitment to wellness, and uniquely positive ethics and values of its people make it a truly magical slice of America.
We are proud to be a small part.
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About Canna Provisions
Canna Provisions is the next generation of cannabis dispensary focusing on a unique and thoughtful customer experience. We are here to guide you and towards the right provisions to fit your lifestyle, and provide knowledgeable support every step of the way. Founded by established industry pioneers with extensive cultivation, regulation and consumer sales experience, Canna Provisions stores provide a broad range of top-grade craft cannabis products that are locally sourced and thoughtfully produced. Life is a journey. No matter the path, trust Canna Provisions to better your journey. To learn more, visit CannaProvisionsGroup.com. Join us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.