Athol Daily News – ‘The growth is still there’: Commissioner reflects on cannabis industry in Western Mass.

Published: 7/28/2021 2:40:13 PM

Modified: 7/28/2021 2:40:15 PM

The state cannabis control commissioner who calls Western Massachusetts his home says legalization of adult-use marijuana in 2016 has breathed economic life into the state in the form of employment opportunities and rehabilitation of old buildings that laid dormant for years.

Bruce Stebbins, an East Longmeadow native, said he is impressed by the number of dispensaries and cultivation facilities reclaiming abandoned industrial space as Massachusetts fosters a healthy and vibrant cannabis community. Voters opted in November 2016 to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana. Sales from licensed dealers became legal two years later.

“It’s certainly drawing some investment,” he said.

Of the 263 marijuana establishments in the state, seven are in Franklin County while 22 are in Hampshire County and 12 are in Hampden County. Of that 263, there are 149 retailers, 52 cultivators, 47 product manufacturers, four microbusinesses, four independent testing laboratories and two marijuana delivery couriers.

“I think we’re still seeing strong growth. We’re giving final licenses and orders to commence operations,” Stebbins said, adding that he gets status updates almost daily. “The growth is still there. I think it’s reflected in the sales figures we’re seeing.”

In November 2020, marijuana retailers surpassed $1 billion in sales and that number had increased to $1.84 billion by July 21, while year-to-date sales were at $678 million.

Stebbins said he hopes cannabis detractors will be comforted by the fact that every product is tested to quality and responsibility. The ballot initiative in 2016 got the thumbs-up from 53.7 percent of state voters. Legalization opponents have argued the state could be flooded with marijuana establishments.

“Right now, we’re still seeing a strong influx of applications that we review on a monthly basis,” Stebbins said. “I think the market will indicate when that saturation point might arrive.”

The two marijuana courier operations are We Can Deliver LLC in Athol and Faded LLC, also known as Your Green Package, in Bellingham. Your Green Package delivers marijuana from New England Treatment Access (NETA) adult-use dispensaries, which are located in Northampton and Brookline.

Stebbins said there are strict guidelines for delivery “to erase any doubts that this cannot be done.” Each courier — part of two-person driver teams — must wear a body camera that is required to be activated when they interact with a customer and each delivery vehicle contains video equipment. Also, each customer’s identification must be verified ahead of time and no one except the person who placed the order is allowed to accept the delivery.

Your Green Package held a three-day driver training in late June at Hotel Northampton and in the parking lot of the Daily Hampshire Gazette on Conz Street.

Stebbins said it is too early to tell if marijuana delivery will take hold in rural areas, but he thinks “it has some value throughout Western Mass. communities.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and state Attorney General Maura Healey appointed Stebbins and Nurys Camargo to the Cannabis Control Commission in December 2020. The commission consists of five members, having been filled out with Kimberly Roy’s appointment about two weeks ago.

Stebbins said he grew up in East Longmeadow and lived in Springfield for about 11 years before moving to Boston five years ago. He most recently served as a commissioner for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the agency responsible for implementing and overseeing the expanded gaming law. According to the state’s website, Stebbins assisted with drafting regulations and awarding the first casino licenses.

Before the Gaming Commission, he was Springfield’s business development administrator and served on the Springfield City Council from 2006 to 2009. He also served as senior regional manager for the National Association of Manufacturers’ New England region from 1999 to 2010.

Stebbins, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from George Washington University, served in two Massachusetts administrations as a regional director, deputy director and then head of the Massachusetts Office of Business Development. He also worked in the Office of Political Affairs at the White House.

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