Greetings, fellow cannabis enthusiasts! Recently, I had an enlightening conversation with Mike Crawford, a long-standing pillar in the cannabis community. Crawford’s journey in the cannabis space is a testament to his unwavering dedication and drive to push for changes in the industry. We talked about the industry as a whole, what corporations can do better, and what happened surrounding the most recent drama regarding Trulieve cannabis. Plus, we’ll take a closer look at the events unfolding around Trulieve’s exit from the Massachusetts market.
Meet Mike Crawford
Mike Crawford has been a fervent cannabis activist long before the industry took off. With over 25 years of experience, he’s worn numerous hats – from being a member of the MassCann/NORML board to organizing countless events and concerts to raise awareness about cannabis rights. As an influential voice in the community, Mike has run his podcast, The Young Jurks, for nine years, offering an uncensored platform for politicians, business leaders, and consumers to share their experiences.
In addition to being an advocate, Crawford also uses cannabis for medical reasons. He turned to cannabis to manage chronic back pain resulting from years of amateur wrestling and as part of his recovery from bladder cancer, which he survived at a young age. Crawford’s focus has always been on the consumers, patients, and recently, the workers in the cannabis industry. His goal is to give a voice to communities that are often overlooked and ensure that the real stories are heard.
His concern for the cannabis community has only grown more robust with time. Crawford is currently focusing on representing workers’ rights within the industry, understanding that each community member, from the patient to the consumer and the worker, deserves to be heard. His upcoming venture into advocating for cannabis investors who have been let down further cements his commitment to ethical business practices in the cannabis space.
Running his own dog-walking business on the side, Crawford loves being an entrepreneur. Still, he values his independence too much to trade it for a job with big dispensaries. He is passionate about organic growth, which means growing his podcast not to make it rich, but to gradually replace his current income.
The Massachusetts Cannabis Industry
Being a resident of Massachusetts, Crawford also shed light on the state’s journey from underground operations to becoming a cannabis industry star. However, he admits to preferring Maine‘s cannabis products for their quality, selection, and service. He commends Maine’s decision to license small caregivers first, establishing a system that promotes diversity and inclusivity, as opposed to Massachusetts’ system, where potential dispensary owners have been waiting years to get licensed.
The cannabis scene in Massachusetts has evolved significantly from its medical days to its current state. Despite being one of the first states to legalize adult-use cannabis, Massachusetts’s market still has a long way to go. While the state has begun to license smaller cannabis businesses, Crawford emphasized the need for further reforms, such as enabling patients to purchase tax-free products with their medical cards.
The Booming Cannabis Market in Massachusetts
The Massachusetts cannabis market has seen gross sales of $4.6 billion since 2018, and $600 million in just the first five months of 2023. Despite these impressive figures, prices have notably dropped. The state Cannabis Control Commission reports that an ounce of flower sold for $171 in June 2023, a substantial decrease from over $400 in early 2021.
As the industry evolves towards small, craft-level growers, the appeal of massive operations diminishes. One anonymous worker equated the cannabis industry’s current transformation to the shift seen in the beer industry over the past decades.
Despite these shortcomings, Crawford sees a silver lining in Massachusetts’ cannabis industry’s future. The introduction of smaller players and an increase in competition indicates a positive trend towards a more inclusive industry. However, he believes that there is still a long way to go to achieve true equity in the cannabis space in Massachusetts.
Who is Trulieve?
Trulieve, a giant in the cannabis industry, came into being in 2014 as the first and the most prominent fully licensed medical cannabis company in Florida. Its vertical integration strategy, a “seed-to-sale” model, coupled with its high-quality, medical-grade cannabis, has facilitated its massive expansion throughout the United States.
The company offers a wide array of Trulieve-branded products, including but not limited to, nasal sprays, capsules, concentrates, cannabis flower in tamper-proof containers for vaporizers, topical creams, and tinctures. Trulieve’s vast selection of products and strains has made it a favorite not only among patients but also recreational users.
However, despite its success and market dominance, Trulieve has recently found itself embroiled in controversies. Kim Rivers, the company’s CEO, has been under scrutiny due to allegations regarding her professional conduct. The details of these allegations remain undisclosed, but they’ve certainly cast a shadow over Trulieve’s reputation.
Furthermore, the company made headlines again when it decided to withdraw from the Massachusetts market, a surprising move that left industry analysts and customers puzzled. The reasons for this strategic retreat are not fully disclosed, but it signifies a major shift in Trulieve’s expansion strategy.
Adding to the company’s woes is the tragic death of a worker at one of its cultivation facilities, an incident that prompted questions about safety protocols and practices within the organization.
“Trulieve has indeed provided high-quality products to patients who need them,” Crawford stated, “but its recent controversies and strategic changes inevitably prompt deeper questions about the company’s operations and the overall health of the cannabis industry.”
As Trulieve navigates these turbulent times, the need for objective, investigative journalism becomes even more crucial. Crawford’s efforts to unearth the complex realities of the cannabis industry continue to shine a light on these evolving issues, contributing to a more transparent and accountable industry.
The Death of Lorna McMurrey
Crawford went on to discuss the unfortunate case of Lorna McMurrey, a young worker at Trulieve’s Massachusetts branch. McMurrey, a 27-year-old employee, collapsed at work and later died after leaving the facility in an ambulance. What makes McMurrey’s case more harrowing is that this was not the first ambulance ride from Trulieve.
Crawford revealed that McMurrey had been facing breathing difficulties, making it even more distressing that Trulieve gave her flower to smoke as a Christmas gift after she had been taken away in an ambulance. McMurrey’s distress escalated, leading to her tragic death a few months later.
Crawford Digs Into the Truth of What Happened
Crawford and his team at The Young Turks were the first to report on this tragedy, after finding out through a co-worker’s Facebook post. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission was unaware of the incident until the story was picked up by the Boston Globe and other outlets, who cited Crawford’s reporting.
During their investigation, Crawford and his team spoke to numerous employees at Trulieve and similar cannabis cultivation sites. They found common reports of workers suffering from rashes, breathing issues, and other health concerns. Despite these alarming reports, the Cannabis Control Commission did not intervene, allowing minimum wage workers to continue working in dangerous conditions with minimal protection.
Upon Lorna’s death, Trulieve’s response was less than satisfactory. They blamed McMurrey for her predicament, claiming she had pre-existing conditions which contributed to her health issues. However, this narrative was refuted by McMurrey’s friends and family, who stated that she had no prior breathing issues until she began working at Trulieve.
Most egregious of all, the company sought to suppress the truth about the unsafe conditions of their workplace. In a disturbing twist, Trulieve used pay-to-play journalism to release PR statements undermining McMurrey’s story. This unseemly practice was called out by several reporters in the industry.
Thanks to the investigative work of Crawford and others, McMurrey’s voice was heard posthumously. Her private Facebook posts painted a clear picture of the distress she was under, revealing the disregard Trulieve had for its employees. McMurrey questioned whether there were workplaces in America that truly cared for their workers, a poignant reflection of her ordeal.
This tragic case underscores the urgent need for reform in the cannabis industry. It highlights the importance of Crawford’s work as an advocate for cannabis patients, consumers, and workers, ensuring that their voices are heard, their experiences acknowledged, and their rights protected.
A Stain on Trulieve: Exploring the Implications of J.T. Burnette’s Conviction
In a stunning development, J.T. Burnette, Florida businessman and husband of Trulieve Cannabis CEO Kim Rivers, was sentenced to three years in federal prison and slapped with a $1.25 million fine for his conviction on bribery charges earlier this year. This event has shaken Trulieve, the Florida-based cannabis giant, and stirred further scrutiny into the company’s corporate dealings, reinforcing the urgent need for ethical business practices in the cannabis industry.
The Conviction and its Repercussions
Burnette was found guilty of participating in a multi-year scheme to extort monthly bribery payments of $10,000 from a then-city commissioner in Tallahassee to secure real estate development projects. His conviction marks a disturbing episode in the cannabis industry, underlining the potential for corruption in corporate cannabis settings.
Although neither Rivers nor Trulieve was directly implicated in Burnette’s case, the conviction has renewed questions about the company’s dealings with Burnette Construction, a firm partly owned by Burnette. Since 2018, Trulieve has reportedly contracted to pay more than $230 million to Florida-based Burnette Construction for work in Florida and Massachusetts, as revealed by an MJBizDaily examination of regulatory filings.
Trulieve’s Response and the Market’s Reaction
In response to Burnette’s conviction, Trulieve’s board of directors reiterated its “strong support” of Rivers and clarified that neither the company nor the CEO was involved in the case. Despite these assurances, this incident casts a shadow over Trulieve’s reputation and raises concerns about the company’s ethical standards, as well as those of the broader cannabis industry.
While Trulieve continues to be a prominent player in the cannabis market, trading on the U.S. over-the-counter markets as TCNNF and the Canadian Securities Exchange as TRUL, its recent struggles highlight the potential pitfalls of corporate cannabis.
Trulieve Exits Mass. Market
Trulieve recently made headlines by announcing its plans to cease operations in Massachusetts by the end of 2023. This decision forms part of the company’s broader retrenchment strategy and comes amid increasing signs of the state’s marijuana market losing its once vibrant appeal.
As part of the national retrenchment, Trulieve closed its shops in Northampton, Framingham, and Worcester on June 30th, 2023, including its growing and processing facility in Holyoke. This move is part of a larger business resilience strategy outlined by Rivers, which involves preserving cash and focusing on core markets.
The exit from Massachusetts also includes closing a selection of retail assets in California and exiting the Nevada wholesale market. Trulieve’s departure follows similar moves by other cannabis companies, like Insa, which laid off workers citing increased out-of-state competition, and The Source, which abruptly closed in December.
Trulieve’s withdrawal from Massachusetts may have profound impacts on the state’s cannabis industry. The company, which employed 128 workers in the state, leaves behind a 126,000-square-foot facility in Holyoke, where about $30 million was invested in renovations and repairs. The city plans to sell the facility, though it recognizes the challenge of finding an interested party given the market’s recent cooling.
Leafly’s Withdrawn Article: Corporate Pressure or Caution?
The online cannabis information resource, Leafly, recently took down an article detailing the tragic death of a worker at a Trulieve facility. The sudden removal of the piece has sparked speculation and debate about the reasons behind the decision.
The role of public relations companies in shaping narratives around corporate controversies is a point of critical importance. PR firms are often hired to mitigate damage to a company’s image in the wake of scandal or tragedy. They accomplish this through a variety of strategies, from issuing press releases to managing social media narratives, and even exerting influence over third-party publications.
However, it’s important to note that while PR firms are capable of exerting significant influence, the extent to which they are responsible for the removal of the Leafly article remains unclear.
When incidents like the worker’s death occur, the role of PR firms can shift from mere damage control to potentially contributing to a culture of corporate negligence. If PR companies are successful in suppressing negative news and spinning narratives, corporations might feel less accountable for their actions.
While PR is an integral part of corporate strategy and operations, the ethics surrounding its use are complex and often controversial. The case of Trulieve and the mysteriously pulled Leafly article serves as a stark reminder of the tension between public relations, corporate accountability, and the public’s right to accurate, unfiltered information.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow and evolve, so too will the challenges and ethical questions it faces. The role of independent investigative journalists like Crawford in unearthing and challenging these issues remains vital for maintaining transparency and accountability in this burgeoning industry.