Devin Alexander on how a grassroots movement created an enviable cannabis delivery model in Massachusetts

If it weren’t for a minor weed conviction in high school, Devin Alexander would likely be in the US Air Force. Instead, he’s proved himself exemplary in the fight for better cannabis legislation in his home state of Massachusetts. 

Devin plays a long game. When he realized his dreams of joining the Air Force had gone up in smoke, he cast around for another career. After studying psychology at Quincy College, he worked as a pharmacy technician at CVS for a few years while trying to figure out his real path.

“I realized how easily transferable my skills would be to work in a dispensary,” he says. “So I took online courses, trying to make my resume very suitable to cannabis. I traveled to conventions, just trying to get my face in, my name heard.”

Devin is very good at this. If you follow the cannabis industry, you’ve probably seen him before — at a convention, on LinkedIn, or–if you live in Massachusetts–in the news. 

At 26, he’s wasted no time in becoming a leading voice in the state’s cannabis industry. After getting a job as a budtender, he worked his way up to director of community outreach of Ermont, a dispensary in his hometown of Quincy. 

“We put on a lot of cleanups and a lot of fundraisers, you know, for a food pantry, an animal shelter, a homeless shelter,” Devin says. “And then back in September of 2019, I organized the city’s first expungement clinic, where I gathered pro bono attorneys and gave individuals the tools and the resources to remove nonviolent cannabis crimes from their criminal record.”

A month later he enrolled in the first cohort of the state’s social equity program

“It was great because, at first, obviously, it was in person,” he recalls. “So we were traveling all around the state to take classes at different locations. Our first class was at the state house and our next class was at a community college while kids were going to school. So it really gave it that feeling that you’re at an institute of higher learning, but it was all free. And I’m taking classes with people who I would see on the news and who I would read about. And I would get to sit next to them, work with them, pick their brain, throw ideas at them and see what happened.

Devin and his business partner Bryce Hall, a friend from high school, planned to start a cannabis delivery business called Rolling Releaf. But here they were on their own — the incubator program couldn’t address delivery because the state had yet to issue the regulations. In order to succeed, Bryce and Devin would need to build their own knowledge base. As usual, Devin tried to be everywhere at once. It paid off. 

“I was out networking and I met Drizly’s co-founder Justin Robinson at an event,” he explains. “At the time, I had no idea what Drizly was — this was pre-COVID. Anyway, Justin tells me about it and says they’re going to start a sister company, Lantern, and it’s going to be the cannabis equivalent of Drizly.” He laughs. “I’m like, all right, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever man — just come to my event. So COVID happens and Drizly blows up 5,000% and becomes the Amazon of alcohol e-commerce, and then I’m like: Oh who better to learn delivery from than these guys right here? So I hit Justin up.”

Justin encouraged them to apply for Lantern’s incubator program, which offered Devin and Bryce a number of key opportunities. 

“The biggest benefit, I would say, of getting into the Lantern incubator program was they set us up with attorneys from Vicente Sederberg law firm that worked for us pro-bono,” Devin says. “So that’s huge — and very beneficial. Very beneficial.

While in the incubator program, he met Christopher Fevry, co-founder of Your Green Package. Devin suggested they form an alliance to advocate for delivery interests; Fevry ran with the idea and formed the Massachusetts Cannabis Association for Delivery (MCAD).

At the time, the state had created a two year window wherein cannabis delivery licenses would be exclusive to equity applicants. But the opportunity wasn’t quite golden. Devin describes the proposed license as  “a glorified Uber Eats.” The regulations stipulated that delivery people contract with a dispensary, take on pre-packaged product, and return all unsold products to the store at the end of the day. 

“We found that it wasn’t a financially feasible business model,” Devin says. 

He and Chris gathered allies from around the state, and the group met with the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) to advocate for better terms. 

“Because really, what incentive did a retailer have to keep a delivery company around after the exclusivity window if they could hop into delivery themselves? We wanted a license type that really gave the delivery company control of its own destiny. So we proposed what is now known as the marijuana delivery operator license. It gives delivery companies the ability to go straight to cultivators or product manufacturers, buy product in bulk, and store it at a facility overnight.”

During the waiting period, MCAD rallied hard to promote their perspective.

“We’re going and doing rallies, we’re circulating petitions, we’re really spreading the word of all the changes. We wanted to get seen. We wanted to simplify it so even people not in the industry could really understand what we were trying to get done.”

When it came time to open the floor to public comment, the response was largely positive and the commissioners unanimously voted to pass the reforms. The new regulations increased the exclusivity window from two years to three years, with the potential to add more. Delivery companies also gained the right to buy wholesale and store their product overnight. In essence, they could be rolling dispensaries.

This was a huge victory for the equity delivery sector, but some players were not so thrilled. 

“This ruffled the feathers of the dispensary owners in the state,” Devin says. The Commonwealth Dispensary Association pitched a complaint to the CCC, who agreed to review additional public comment on the issue, but this time via email. Unaware that the CC would publish the emails on their website, many dispensary owners wrote in complaining about the equity delivery program. 

“So there’s people sending in emails, thinking they were going to be private, you know, people who claimed to be for equity, sending all these emails to the CCC, and they all got exposed. You know, this is like soap opera level drama at this point,” Devin says with a laugh. 

Although some people may have been chagrined to see their complaints about the equity program published online, that wasn’t the end of the dispute. The CCC went through with the reforms, and the Commonwealth Dispensary Association filed a lawsuit against them. 

“This was in January leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So most of these companies are going on social media posting Black Lives Matter, Social justice is for all, equality for all. But they’re filing a lawsuit against mostly black-owned businesses, and that’s what really angered me,” Devin says, losing the smile you often hear in his voice. 

Devin and his compatriots at MCAD channeled their anger by joining forces with Mary Pryor and Cannaclusive, Equitable Opportunities Now, and advocate Shanel Lindsay

“We made a list of all the dispensaries that are part of the association and we spread it like wildfire through Instagram and other social media outlets,” Devin remembers. He says that one by one retailers began dropping out of their association and claiming it was because they didn’t support the lawsuit.

“You know, if all of these people were so against the lawsuit in the first place, how was it even formed?” Devin asks wryly. “The lawsuit was announced on Wednesday and it was dropped by Sunday.”

Through persistent grassroots networking, MCAD and their allies had helped to create an equity license with more economic potential, and they’d successfully won a second battle against their detractors. 

“We formed the association in June [2020] and had created the new license type by August…It was very gratifying,” Devin says. “And it just shows people what you can accomplish if you just truly work together and have one goal. You know, don’t try to belittle each other, set the ego aside for the greater good, you know.”

Devin says it was a true team effort and credits Christopher Fevry for spearheading MCAD, and Aaron and Janelle Goines, owners of The Emerald Turtle delivery, for teaching them it was possible to get in-person audiences with the CCC. 

But the fight is never over. After helping to create an entirely new license category, Devin and Bryce still had to build a delivery business from the ground up. 

They found the perfect spot in Newton, a suburb of Boston, but faced pushback from the community, which saw Rolling Releaf as a threat. Devin and Bryce had to switch back into educator mode and go door to door, trying to convince people that their headquarters would bring good jobs and tax dollars to the neighborhood.

In addition to teaching suburbanites that weed businesses can be good businesses, Devin is still pushing for legislative reform. The Massachusetts Senate and House have both passed cannabis law reform bills and are currently in the process of ironing out their differences. Proposals include a social equity trust fund and CCC oversight of host community agreements (which have spawned charges of corruption). Devin is excited at the prospect of continuing to advance a more equitable industry in Massachusetts, and will be doing his part on the physical plane when Rolling Releaf opens its gates this fall.

“It’s been two years since I formed my LLC,” Devin says ruefully. “But you know, I had to create an entirely new license type and that took a whole year.”

When Rolling Releaf is finally up and running, Devin and Bryce plan to support other righteous companies, including Harbor House  (equity),  Freshly Baked (woman-owned, veteran own, equity) Coast Cannabis (woman-owned), River Run Gardens (a micro-business dedicated to craft cannabis), and Justin Credible Cultivation (Black-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned, and LGBQT-owned).

“Their CEO, Reggie Stanfield, is the first Black [licensed] cultivator who is an owner, not even in Massachusetts, but on the entire East Coast.” Devin says. “So when people buy deliveries through Rolling Releaf, they’ll have a chance to support the two black-owned brands with one purchase.

Every day this moment gets closer. Rolling Releaf now has three delivery vans, and they’ve made considerable investment in security: safes for the vehicles, 13 cameras for the 5,000-square-foot facility, and body cams for the delivery people. At present they are required to send two employees for every delivery, an expensive provision that Devin considers a prime example of mindless overregulation, and one he hopes to change.

Given his track record, that doesn’t seem like a pipe dream. 

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