A Grown In review of required diversity plans submitted by Massachusetts’ adult use cannabis license holders finds that many are getting close to attaining their goals, but overall the state’s cannabis workers remain largely white and male. Despite this, the Bay State is ahead of most other states, as 15% of its adult use cannabis licenses are held by minority business owners, according to self-reported data collected by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).

In Massachusetts, every adult use cannabis license applicant must file a diversity plan, which outlines goals, programs, and measurements the adult use business would pursue once licensed, according to guidance from the CCC. Plans should include a realistic timeline and targeted audience of each program. 

Of the top 12 license holders in the state with six or more provisional, pre-certified licenses or submitted applications, Grown In was able to obtain original diversity plans for just a handful of the companies. Many had the required number of goals, but were missing definite timelines for these goals. 

Four of the companies had their original applications with diversity plans available through the CCC’s website. All 12 of the companies were contacted, but only half responded – and of those, four agreed to an interview. 

Applicants are required to show their progress in annual application renewals. And, according to regulations, these diversity plans have teeth: the CCC is empowered to revoke, suspend, or deny renewal of applications if “substantial progress” toward the diversity plan has not been made. 

However the CCC did not confirm that it had ever used its full powers to reprimand businesses that fail to reach the goals in their diversity plans. The CCC does make recommendations to revisit plans prior to renewal if no or limited progress has been made towards their goals. 

As of March 2022, 70% percent of registered agents were white in a state where non-Latino caucasians make up 80% of the population. Black people make up 7% of cannabis workers and 9% of the state’s population, Latinos and non-white Hispanics make up 9% of licensee staff and 12% of the state’s demographics. 

On the other hand, Massachusetts has achieved significantly less gender diversity, as just 35% of cannabis licensee workers are women, compared to 51% of the population. 

“Applicants are required to demonstrate a minimum of two goals relating to diversity; however, more goals are encouraged. Each diversity goal should be measurable and tailored to address Commission-identified diverse populations. Specifically: People of color, particularly Black, African American, Latinx and Indigenous people; Women; Veterans; Persons with disabilities; and LGBTQ+ people,” the CCC wrote in the guidance. 

Benjamin Virga, a founder of Frozen 4 Corporation, said diversity plans are important because the state’s adult use industry was created “on the mandate of helping those areas of disproportionate impact.”

“The whole impetus behind legalization was because of the negative impact of the War on Drugs, on people of color, and on people of lower socioeconomic status,” Virga said. “Everyone that legalized cannabis has a responsibility to make sure that it is done in the spirit of the legalization process, to make sure that opportunity is provided to everyone and anyone who seeks it and that people are hired based on their inherent skill sets and not based on their ability to navigate the cronyism of other corporate-related industries.”

Virga said the COVID-19 pandemic hindered and changed the company’s diversity goals – but he says they’re now close to meeting them.

“We have three separate goals. One is regarding staffing metrics. One is in regards to training of our staff once they are hired. And the third is in regard to recruitment of the staff,” Virga said. “We've only been in operation for four months. Our retail license became operational in mid-December of 2021. We only have one location currently for that dispensary. So we're very, very excited about what we've done as far as reaching our goals. We've met or exceeded a bunch. We're a little bit under on a few others and we have a pretty positive action plan in order to meet those goals that we came up a little short on.”

Frozen 4 Corporation’s diversity plan was to hire 50% women, 20% minorities, 10% veterans, 10% LGBTQ, and 10% people with disabilities. Currently, the company has hired 41% women, 21% minorities, 6% veterans, 8% LGBTQ, and 14% people with disabilities. 

“We expected to have more staff at this point than we do,“ Virga said. “With the COVID shutdown; the lack of non-emergency construction not being allowed within the state, we ended up switching gears and focusing on retail first. While retail has a very robust staff – about 25 full time employees, cultivation will be three times that; manufacturing will be two times that… That's one of the areas where we'll be able to enhance our meeting of diversity goals simply because our numbers are going to get a lot greater.”

Regarding interventions from the CCC, Virga said the CCC provided feedback during the initial application process. 

“They really go through your diversity plan with a fine tooth comb to make sure that what you're submitting is acceptable,” Virga said. 

Brendan McKee, the CFO of Silver Therapeutics, said his company reaches out to minority-owned vendors when looking for contractors, but he said reaching minority goals in their Williamstown location, which borders Vermont and New York, has been challenging. 

“We're at about a 10% minority employed, give or take. It's in an area of the state that, as you can imagine, the diversity is lacking,” McKee said. 

Though the CCC has not published Silver Therapeutics’ original diversity plan, in its renewal, the goals are clear: to increase diverse workers and retain them.

“The company has employed 16 women, three people of color and one veteran; one veteran and four women have been promoted to management level positions; the company has created 36 total jobs,” according to a 2021 renewal application.

“All employees engaged in an initial training course covering the benefits of workplace diversity, the importance of sensitivity and inclusion, and the legal basis for providing an equal opportunity workplace and are required to complete this training once annually; the company posted notice of its job openings in the following publications: Berkshire Eagle, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, the Greenfield Recorder, the Amherst Bulletin and the Pittsfield Gazette,” the diversity plan continued. 

McKee said the company is building a vertically integrated facility and incubator called City Farm in Boston. 

“Local people, groups that have been disproportionately impacted by the prohibition of cannabis, will have access to this facility,” he said. “People can come in and learn how to grow, learn how to manage retail, learn how to process and ultimately, continue to work with Silver Therapeutics and City Farm – or develop their own brands.”

Jason Erkes, a spokesman for Cresco Labs, said since closing their purchase of vertically-integrated Cultivate, the company has been making sure they have the infrastructure in place to comprehensively achieve and track the diversity targets set by the prior owners.

“Since the integration began, we launched a companywide workplace diversity training program, engaged Viridian Staffing to support recruitment in areas of disproportionate impact, and are currently recruiting for several senior level DEI positions across the company,” Erkes said, adding that they are seeking membership with the National Minority Supplier Development Council. 

Dean Iandoli, founder and director of compliance and policy for the Caregiver-Patient Connection LLC, said their original diversity plan was very difficult to execute as they began to expand operations.

“We were able to hire veterans, but there weren’t enough applicants to come close to the 20%, so we made the decision internally to revise the diversity plan, which was subsequently approved by the [CCC], with the goal being its’ current one, a workforce comprised of at least 50% women, a goal that we continue to meet,” Iandoli said. 

He added that the positions of CEO, CFO, director of cultivation, director of wholesale, director of human resources, and inventory supervisor are held by women.

“Given the success we have had with this, we will continue to operate company-wide with the current diversity plan,” Iandoli said. 

Though the public application for Sira Naturals was missing a diversity plan (because the CCC did not require these plans be published before 2020), there is mention of diversity goals in the application. 

“GOAL: At least 30% minority representation by the end of 2020,” Sira Naturals wrote in their initial application. Yet 2020 has come and passed, and the new goal is the same – except there is no timeline for when it is due. 

Sira Naturals did not respond to media requests by the time of publication. 

Sieh Samura, CEO of the first adult use dispensary in Cambridge, Yamba Market, opens this month. He is an Economic Empowerment applicant and said he takes diversity plans seriously.

His company’s goals are to hire 50% women; 50% minorities; 10% veterans; 10% persons with disabilities; and 10% LGBTQ. 

“A more diverse industry is a more healthy industry. A more diverse industry is one that serves its customers better,” Samura said. “Because the licensed cannabis industry is built off of a long history of cannabis prohibition and racial oppression and targeting, that's why diverse goals have always been at the forefront of the cannabis industry as it's emerging and growing, because people understand and realize the real need for diversity in the industry.”

As to whether the CCC has used its powers to enforce diversity plans, Samura said that remains to be seen. 

“Do the diversity plans have teeth? Yeah, I think they can. As soon as the CCC cracks down. I think they need to make an example of something. I don't know if they've found an example they are comfortable with. But everyone's trying to stay compliant,” he said.  

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Cynthia Fernandez is a data reporter for Grown In. Previously, she was a politics reporter for Spotlight PA, a nonpartisan newsroom based in Harrisburg and reported at the Boston Globe. In 2019 she graduated...