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Weed possession once got him jailed. Now, delivering it is his bona fide business
Weed possession once got him jailed. Now, delivering it is his bona fide business
Weed possession once got him jailed. Now, delivering it is his bona fide business

Published on: 04/12/2024


QUINCY − Back in 2011, when Devin Alexander was a senior at Quincy High, police arrested him for possessing of marijuana.

Now, he's the co-founder of a cannabis delivery company. And he's helping promote legal marijuana, specifically the Cannabis Control Commission's Social Equity Program.

The cost-free initiative provides populations disproportionately impacted by the "war on drugs" with technical training and advice, an expedited licensing process and financial benefits such as fee waivers, easing their entry into the growing sector. State cannabis commissioner Kimberly Roy and Alexander, a graduate of the social equity program's inaugural class and owner of Rolling Releaf, have been touring the state to get the word out before this year's April 30 deadline for applications.

Alexander qualified for the program because he grew up and lives in Quincy, which has been designated by the Commission as an area harmed by the "war on drugs." He is doubly qualified because he was arrested for possession as a teen.

Alexander's success story embodies the program's mission. The prohibition on marijuana, which ended in Massachusetts in 2016, closed the door on certain opportunities for the young Alexander. The Social Equity Program opened it wide again.

"They put me in handcuffs and put me in a cell," he recalled. "You guys (meaning The Patriot Ledger) published my name in the paper. A stigma followed me around because of that."

Alexander said he wanted to go into the Air Force, but his criminal record disqualified him. Instead he enrolled in Quincy College, graduating with a degree in psychology.

Eventually he got a job as a budtender at Ermont Inc, the medical dispensary on Ricciuti Drive bought by MariMed in 2023 and reopened as Panacea Wellness. Alexander described the experience of selling marijuana legally in his hometown as surreal at times, for instance when his former teachers would come in to make a purchase.

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He said that when police details were stationed in the area, officers would sometimes make use of the Ermont's bathroom. "There I was, making a transaction right in front of the same police department that arrested me."

In June 2019, Alexander was accepted into the Social Equity Program. He described taking a series of classes held at the State House, Suffolk University and Bunker Hill Community College. His coursework included business marketing, municipal process, community outreach and how to create a positive impact plan, one of the licensing requirements in Massachusetts.

Participation in the program gave Alexander exclusive access to a valuable license type, the delivery operator license, which allows him to bring cannabis products to customers' doors through his business, Rolling Releaf, which he opened out of Newton in March 2023.

"To me, the crown jewel of the Social Equity Program is the exclusive access to delivery licenses," he said. "It allowed us to establish ourselves in the market because there are not too many out there. In the Boston area, we're one of only three. It's been a huge advantage for us."

That exclusivity window for special licenses like Alexander's delivery license kicked off in April 2022 with a three year lifespan. In August, Commissioners will begin considering whether to extend it before it expires in 2025. Unsurprisingly, Alexander said he strongly supports an extension.

The 2016 referendum that legalized recreational marijuana included an "equity mandate" designed, in the words of Commissioner Roy, to "right the wrongs of prohibition." The Social Equity Program is one way the Cannabis Control Commission works to fill this mandate.

Residents of 31 "disproportionately impacted communities," across the state, including Quincy, qualify to participate. These communities were affected by a disproportionate amount of arrests and incarcerations resulting from the former prohibition on marijuana.

Roy said that while cannabis is now the state's number one agricultural product in dollar value, surpassing cranberries, a number of obstacles still stand in the way of budding entrepreneurs who, like Alexander, don't have ready access to capital.

Because federal law regards marijuana in the same light as heroin (both are Schedule 1 substances deemed to have no legitimate medical purpose), cannabis retailers lack access to small business loans. This makes them susceptible to predatory lenders, Roy said.

To alleviate this situation, the Massachusetts legislature passed a reform bill that established the Social Equity Trust Fund, which provides eligible applicants (those from communities disproportionately harmed communities) with no- or low-interest loans and grants. Alexander has already applied.

"I'll be hearing back any day now," he said. "I check my email every morning."

To meet the program's eligibility requirements, applicants must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Residency in one of 30 disproportionately Impacted Areas for five of the past 20 years and income that does not exceed 400% of the Area Median Income.
  • Massachusetts residency for the past 12 months and a conviction for a marijuana-related offense.
  • Massachusetts residency for the past 12 months and married to or the child of an individual with a conviction for a marijuana-related offense.

Since launching statewide in 2019 ,over 800 people have graduated from the program.

The Cannabis Control Commission has scheduled three upcoming clinics to assist with the application process. The next is on Wednesday, April 10 at 5 p.m. at the DCU Center in Worcester, and the third is at Holyoke Community College on April 22 at 5 p.m.

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