In 2008, the vote by Massachusetts to decriminalize marijuana set the BayState on its journey to legalizing cannabis by a ballot initiative eight years later. This set into motion the need for a centralized authority whose purpose was to operationalize the law for the opening of medical and recreational retail dispensaries across the state. Enter the Cannabis Control Commission, (CCC) which has handled the dizzying charter of providing host municipalities with guidelines intended to balance community impacts with new revenue opportunity. As its Executive Director since the agency’s found, Shawn Collins brings the most current perspective on this growing industry. He recently shared his insights about how public affairs have been an economic driver with Loring Barnes for a PRSA Boston’s Fast Five… and a few more questions.
On April 4th, some members of the Cannabis Control Commission’s communications team will be in attendance. Our team includes:
- Cedric Sinclair, Director of Communications
- Maryalice Gill, Press Secretary @maryalice_gill
- Martine Maingot, Digital Director @martinemaingot
We draw agency talent from the State PRF60 Contract for advertising, graphic design and public awareness, including this campaign: “More About Marijuana”
Q: We share the experience of holding elected office in respective hometowns. Interestingly, you were chair of your school committee. As a general statement, schools are a municipal department that will claim new budget needs to fund educational impact or mitigation programs stemming from the arrival of local cannabis cultivation or dispensaries. How has your insight from your elected office tenure factored in decisions as related to deploying state-level marijuana health and safety programs targeting youth, families, staff nurses and educators? What is the delineation of educational resources to be provided through the CCC versus the Department of Public Health?
A: Public education and awareness, especially during the infancy of this industry, is critical. Our campaign, “More About Marijuana,” specifically identifies the importance of parents talking with their children about the potential impact of youth access. It also reminds parents that if they intend to purchase and consume adult-use cannabis, they also have an obligation to keep those products safe and secure within their home. We have made these public awareness materials, including rack cards, available through the state’s clearinghouse and shared them with superintendents across Massachusetts. Education and awareness are the best tools we have, and we’ll partner with anyone that can help us get those messages out. That includes other state agencies, as well as local and community partners.
Q: You’re an attorney. How do you reconcile protection of First Amendment rights with the recent actions taken by Instagram and Facebook to delete social media accounts of early-stage marijuana businesses, to include those newly opened in Massachusetts? For a small business, social media is a key engagement tool used for marketing and education. Is the CCC taking an advocacy position or providing guidance to these businesses as how to navigate social media?
A: I’m an attorney, yes, but I’m not in the best position to offer legal advice in this particular area. The Commission, consistent with our objective to be as available and transparent as possible, does seek to leverage social media as often as possible to get our own message out. We know that a lot of our key constituency can be found on these platforms. We also know, too, that kids are present and active on these platforms. So, we do expect any of our licensees to be mindful of that when using these tools.
Q: A cornerstone of the cannabis industry is social equity, which is a program described as a deliverable by the CCC. How does the CCC advance access to small business investor capital, grants or other benefits for minority or underrepresented business populations if federal lending laws make it so difficult?
A: This is really the challenge that is facing this industry and these entrepreneurs across the board. Access to capital limits everyone’s access to this market, but especially hinders those small business owners that aren’t independently wealthy. Given the federal constraints, the solution may have to be multi-faceted. This could include state-run and supported programs, including grants and loans, as well as private investments targeted specifically to small business, particularly those economic empowerment applicants and social equity program participants. There is no one, single solution to this.
Q: Does the CCC hire paid interns for experiences supporting communications, public affairs or outreach functions? Will the CCC be expanding to meet the needs of the growing cannabis industry?
A: As a start-up agency, our Commission is always looking to add additional resources and support. We have tried to develop a strategic approach to public awareness and community outreach, and both are two areas of potential growth within the Commission. We do not currently have any opportunities for internships, but think they are something we will absolutely consider in the future.
Q: What is the biggest misconception or information gap that the CCC is working to address?
A: While the Commission has broad regulatory authority, we do not oversee all things cannabis-related. We rely on other state agencies and scores of local partners to regulate this new industry. Relatedly, residents have a lot of rights with this new law, including the ability to grow plants in their home. This isn’t something the Commission has the authority to police, but we’d gladly work with residents to understand their rights and limitations, as well as local authorities in a similar manner. Lastly, I think it is important for folks to remember that we’re still a young and growing agency.
Q: In the morning when you’re enjoying your morning coffee, what are you reading to start your day? Then during your commute, do you listen to podcasts or news stations as might intersect with your need to keep on top of cannabis-related topics?
A: I rely on local media in the Boston area and other regional outlets in the state to get my news every morning, including the Boston Business Journal and Boston Globe. I also make a point to scroll through Flipboard, which helps me cast a much wider net for all news – including cannabis. As for my commute, I’ll admit I’m much more likely to listen to “The Daily” from the New York Times, or “Up First” from NPR, as opposed to cannabis-related podcasts. Sometimes I need the break.
Meet Shawn Collins on Thursday, April 4th and hear from the agency tasked with shaping a safe and equitably accessible cannabis industry in Massachusetts. He joins an A-lister panel of marijuana business experts and policy influencers. The lively discussion will be lead by Jess Bartlett (@BOSBIZJess), veteran cannabis and craft beer beat journalist for the Boston Business Journal. Click on this LINK to get your ticket. Special rates for students, young professionals and members.