Chapman Dickerson, CEO of Bask, talks about the future of cannabis

Chapman Dickerson, who goes by Chappy for short, loves his job as CEO of Bask, Inc., where he oversees a 120-employee operation that runs a medicinal and recreational cannabis dispensary in Fairhaven and a cannabis growing facility in Freetown.

A native of Mattapoisett and a United States military veteran, Dickerson has been active in the South Coast cannabis scene since 2013 and sticks close to his local roots by giving back to the community through fundraising and service work that includes outreach and education about cannabis. 

Here, Dickerson talks to The Light about the business of cultivating and selling cannabis, the future of the industry in Massachusetts, current legislation in the state  surrounding the industry, and his own relationship to cannabis. 

New Bedford Light: What is the state of the cannabis industry on the South Coast right now?

Chapman Dickerson: South Coast specific? There’s not a lot of storefronts. There’s not a lot of operations, but we also don’t have the population either. The majority of the operations right now are around large cities — you got Boston, Springfield, Worcester, and then here we are on the South Coast. New Bedford has 100,000 people. So it’s not that attractive to some people. And they’ve been pretty restrictive in New Bedford. Mayor (Jon) Mitchell fought it for a long time — I think he’s coming around now. But yeah, there’s just not a lot going on on the South Coast. But there’s some really good operators there. 

NBL: What about Massachusetts as a whole?

CD: Massachusetts as a whole is doing well. I think the latest number is 231 dispensaries now. A pretty big jump from two openings in 2016. And I think moving forward, there’s a lot in the queue to open. Some are just storefronts, some just cultivations but, so far so good, it’s a good business model.

NBL: More specifically, how is Bask doing? How’s business been for you guys?

CD: Bask is great. I didn’t expect to do so well and to be so respected in the community. We’ve done a really good job of community service. We have a lot of Bask fans, and I love seeing people out there who have a Bask shirt on or they have a Bask cup or a Bask blanket. I was shocked to see how many people come through the doors — and that was something that was more on the recreational side. Medical is a limited market. On the recreational side, anybody can come in there. You have your aunts and your uncles and your teachers coming in and, you know, selectmen and ex-firefighters and ex-police. Everybody uses cannabis. So I think it’s done really well for the community.

NBL: You mentioned possible expansion in your future. What does that look like?

CD: So, on the cultivation processing side, we’ve outgrown this facility already. So, in the works right now — on the same property we’re allowed to have 100,000 square feet — so we’re gonna have a cultivation built. So another 85,000 square feet will max us out at 100 [thousand]. 

On the retail side, we’ve been going after Taunton for a while. It’s been a pretty heated court case, and it really comes down to the city not doing what they were supposed to do. And unfortunately, it’s in the courts … So we’re just waiting.

The court said we could have a storefront up there — we have a building, we have a special permit — basically, we need a Host Community Agreement. We had one at first, and then the City Council denied — well, it was four to four — the extension, which they’ve never denied anybody. So it’s very political there. It’s not like Fairhaven. It’d be nice to have an answer for that. If I don’t have an answer for that, I’m not going to pull out after two-and-a-half years [in business]. I don’t have a choice. But we’ll see what happens.

When it comes to other storefronts, I don’t know. I’m comfortable. I’m doing exactly what I set out to do. I’m selling cannabis where I grew up. I’m from Mattapoisett, it takes me four minutes to get to the dispensary, and I love that. I don’t want to go to Boston. I don’t want to go to the city. I think I just want to concentrate on wholesale and run our storefront — and maybe Taunton —  then go from there. 

We’re allowed to have three — three storefronts. [I want to] pursue that eventually, but I don’t need to do it right now. I’m happy where I’m at. We have 120 employees as well; I know everybody’s names and their birthdays and their families. I’d like to stick with that, too. I don’t want to have a 300- to 400-person company.

NBL: How has business changed from before COVID, to during COVID, to now? Have things fluctuated heavily? Has it been steady?

CD: So pre-COVID is just regular business as usual. And then the hysteria started with COVID — and I actually was the first one to have it in the company — so I went through the 14 days staying at home. So it was good that everybody saw that we’re taking it seriously. And it has been serious, we’ve had a decent amount of people [get COVID].

The first go around, we only had a few, myself included. And then we had a second bout of it, and that’s when I was like “Oh, it’s getting crazy.” So we had half a department out with COVID. It makes it really difficult to run an operation. 

I think we were fortunate though. There were some key people that were in place that were safe. They didn’t have any issues. And then we did some cross training too. So actually, just recently, we have a little uptick (of COVID) right now in the Fairhaven and New Bedford area — the South Coast in general. And so we had all but two people from the harvest team out. But it was great. We could pull people from packaging, we pulled a couple from cultivation. Everybody helped out and they did amazing. So you adapt to it. 

NBL: So, since legalization, has business matched expectations of what you thought it would be like? Has interest grown or waned since legalization?

CD: It’s nonstop. I get calls from patients and from consumers, I see people in the community. I’m like, flagged down. I have a tough time going to the grocery store — everybody’s super interested. Everybody wants to know how [cannabis] will affect them, “if I take this and that.” And I think it’s great. I think it’s come a long way. 

I think it hasn’t plateaued yet, and there’s always new people getting into it. There’s always a lot of older people that want to reconnect with it, like, maybe they did in college, and they’ve been out of college for 45 years, and they’re getting ready to retire, and they want to reconnect with it. They realize how good it made them feel in college. And they’re like, “hey, I want to feel like that again,” and so they’re exploring it.

We have one lady that comes in, she’s like 100 years old and in a wheelchair. She wheels herself in, she gets her lotion and her balms. I love seeing that kind of stuff. 

I think the interest is not going to peak for quite a few years. And then there’s always other people coming into it, always people that want to reconnect. So I don’t know if it ever completely goes away. Eventually it will stabilize at one point. I do think we’re probably five years away from any of that. Colorado just had its first non-growth month. And I think it was down like 20%, something like that. But they were also far exceeding their expectations.

NBL: You mentioned before that lots of your job now is education. What does that mean? What does that entail?

CD: There’s some people that have never seen a cannabis plant, so just being able to show them a cannabis plant and realize: “Hey, listen, there’s no boogeyman back there, it’s not going to hurt you.” It looks like the plant growing in your garden —  actually very close to a tomato plant. 

So, I think when it comes to people not in the industry — and sometimes that’s your investors, your local selectmen, town administrators, fire department, police department —– to get them in here and to actually see who works here, like, “hey, look, this could be your aunt,” or, “hey, this is your niece that works here.”

And then you go back, you see all the processes — there’s a lot of science back there. They look at it, they get to see the plants. And they go, “wait a minute, this isn’t hurting anybody.” It’s pretty —  how would you describe it — there’s no threat here. You come and there’s a plant growing, you know, nobody’s getting crazy back there. There’s nobody smoking cannabis on the job, nobody is doing edibles here — you come to work and you go home. So I think just being able to show people that is a pretty good education.

So we have a little bit more, if people want to get into it. You know, “how is my medication going to react with this edible?” We have patient education at the dispensary every day. We have a consultation room where — maybe you’ve never tried cannabis, and you kind of want some advice on what maybe would work for you — we go over some of the symptoms, and we can actually tell you what worked for other patients with the same symptoms, so that helps out, too. The more you know about it, the more comfortable you are, the better experience you’re going to have. 

NBL: And sort of along the same lines, you mentioned that there’s a lot of community outreach that you do. I know there’s been fundraising in the past, the tree giveaway at Bask.

CD: Free trees at Bask? 

NBL: What sort of things have you done? What are you planning for the future in terms of those kinds of programs?

CD:  So I think, for me, it’s super important to be involved in the community. I’ve always been involved in public service. I’m a firefighter in Mattapoisett, I was in the military and served on boards. And I just think, for me, it’s important as a company, we have a platform now. It’s not just one person — one person can make some change, but a company can really make some change. 

We do a lot of cleanups. The environment is important to us — sustainability — so simple things like cleaning up trash at Fort Phoenix. Being the solution to pollution. That’s one of my favorite things to do. It takes a couple hours, and next thing you know you have a beautiful park again. You never know where the trash is coming from, it blows in — maybe a trash can tipped over, stuff like that, but put it where it’s supposed to be. 

We do a lot of veterans events, Mission 22, Ruck for Vets — that’s another big one we like to do. It’s a ruck march that raises awareness for veteran suicide. The Veterans Association of Bristol County, we do a lot of food drives. Being a veteran, I like to kind of concentrate on that. But we do a lot … We have Around the Bend Farm coming up, LGBTQ Community [events], so we do a lot with them as well. 

We try to concentrate right where we’re from. We’re not doing anything in western Mass.; it’s all right in the Fairhaven and New Bedford area. So we’re going to continue that, and I don’t think that ever goes away. It’s part of a positive impact plan, and I think we want to do as much as we can, within reason, and keep that going — to just be a standard in the community for it.

NBL: How did you get started in this business? Was there an interest in medicinal [marijuana] first? Or did you like to use recreationally as a teenager or young person, and that got you into it?

CD: I’ve always had my ears wide open for it. My dad did 10 years in prison. It wasn’t only for cannabis, but it was a big part of it. So I’ve always had that kind of open ear to things you shouldn’t do. I had my first hit of cannabis when I was 12. You know, I remember like it was yesterday. So I’ve always been interested in it. 

It wasn’t until I was stationed in Germany. So, I went to Amsterdam and I saw how the coffee shops operated. And that was — I went back pretty often. Disclaimer: maybe I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing, as a soldier, but I loved it. I looked at how happy people were and I looked at it with kind of a business mind, too. Like, “hey, this is going to come to America, this is gonna be business.” 

I also was gonna do it, legal or not. When I got out of the service in 2001, I started cultivating right away, and I never looked back. So I was going to do it either way. But I also didn’t want to go to prison. So, the opportunity to do it legally was attractive to me, you know? And I said, “Oh, wait, I can actually grow cannabis.” I realized right away, it helps a lot of people, and I can do it legally, so I’m all in — let’s do it. I put everything I could into it — that’s what I did. 

I started down in Rhode Island and I ran the fairly large Caregiver Collective. We had, like, 130 patients. We supplied them with cannabis. Then when Massachusetts was going to be voted on, I knew it was going to pass already. I had already locked up some lawyers prior to the vote. Like, I want to get in and I want to get in on the ground floor. And that’s what we did. That was like Sept. 3, 2012. 

The only lawyers that would take us — everybody else, out of  30 lawyers [who said], “call me when you get in trouble.” I said, “no, this is going to pass, it’s gonna happen.” And it was Michael Cutler and Dick Evans, great guys from Northampton. So we had to drive to Northampton to meet with our lawyers. And we ended up getting a license. Then from there it’s history, and here we are today.

More InPerson profiles

NBL: What’s your favorite strain?

CD: I try not to pick favorites. They all have a purpose. There’s some that I like at different times. I also don’t use as much cannabis as I used to. I just had four months with no cannabis, so that was a pretty good clean out. But I would say, you know, all-in-all, if I were to say which one would I have the better relationship with? I would say Grape Goddess is probably the one that I have the best relationship with.

NBL: We’re gonna switch gears just a little bit here and talk more about some bigger picture Massachusetts stuff. Right now, how do you feel about the current cannabis legislation in the state? Is it working for you? Could it be better?

CD: I think it could always be better. I’m kind of in the mindset of “play the hand you’re dealt,” and I don’t like every rule and regulation that’s out there. But I also don’t have a choice. I have to operate in that space. We always kind of just [keep] our head down and do our own thing. I’m not part of any organization or anything like that — when it comes to cannabis organizations. My days of showing up at the State House are over. I have a lot to do here, and that’s a big part of my day. 

Sometimes they throw in, like, honestly, stupid bills, like, “let’s try to regulate the THC levels.” Get that crap out of here — it’s stupid. It’s one or two legislators that ruin it, that try to put a damper on it. [With the amount of] people that agree with legalization and the way that it’s going, those people are old news.

You’re not helping anybody. Do you want to go after something? Why don’t you go after fentanyl, you know?

NBL: What would be on your wish list of changes to see in the way things operate here in Massachusetts?

CD: I think on cannabis altogether — and really, not just in Massachusetts — but being able to access capital. Being able to go to a bank and retain ownership in your whole company — by going to get a loan from a bank — I think would be awesome. 

There’s a lot of people that benefit from having a cannabis business. You get to meet a lot of different people. But it would be nice if you could just go to a bank, like, “Hey, I have this great business model. I would love to open this business,” instead of having to go to private funds. I think if they could change the banking, I’d be really happy. It’d be nice to use credit cards too, like right now it’s still cash and debit — it’s great that we can use debit, because it wasn’t always that way. So it would be nice if they got the banking situation straightened out.

NBL: I was reading through the bill that’s in the Massachusetts Senate, Bill S-801. I saw that they’re trying to create a better pathway for social consumption establishments. First, what are your thoughts on those sorts of establishments and would bask ever kind of expand in that direction if there was a pathway?

CD: I have a social equity license. Being a veteran, and my dad did 10 years in prison, so I have Bask and then I have a separate license — Chapman Dickerson —  that could apply for one of the social establishments. 

I think it’s the next step. And this might be different for some people but I don’t want to be home and using cannabis in front of my kid, you know? I would like to go out and be social. I think a lot of cannabis use is social, but there’s a time and a place for it. If you had that time and a place in this establishment, I think it’d be great. I support it, and I think it’s gonna happen.

I think they’re going to be super slow to roll it out. I just read — I think it was Colorado — there’s no alcohol served where there’s cannabis. So I think that’s a good thing, kind of keep it separate for now. Maybe down the road they intertwine? Maybe not, who knows? But I think the first step is, yeah, let’s get a cannabis cafe open. 

I think it’d be great for the community. People want it. It would give you that time and place where you can relax with other socially minded people. So I would like to participate in it. After seeing what Amsterdam looks like, I think it’d be great to have here. 

Especially, you’ve got to be with the population, I think. I don’t think it could be in the boonies. But, for instance, in New Bedford you have a lot of three-family [homes], I don’t want to be the rude guy that’s smoking weed in his apartment and smoking out the two people above them. But if I could go to a place, and especially if I could walk there, and then I could walk home, that’s even better. I think population density has a lot to do with that. So I think it’d be a great step.

NBL: You mentioned two separate licenses?

CD: When Bask got their license there was no social equity program, so I couldn’t do it. They didn’t come out until after. Some of the requirements are that you have to own 51% of the company. So I told you, I had to go raise money, so I couldn’t keep my whole company. I wanted to, but back in 2013, 2014, 2015, that wasn’t the case. So I had to raise money, and that was part of the implication of raising money. I own a good portion of the company; it’s just not 51%. So, I can’t have a social equity license under Bask — I really want to — but that’s not gonna happen. But I can have my own separate Chapman Dickerson license — social equity — so I have that on the side.

NBL: What does the social equity license allow you to do?

CD: Social equity, for me, in my experience — what I want to do — it lets you do micro-business, delivery, lets you do everything else. It cuts your costs in half, puts you in the front of the line. 

I personally want to use it for delivery. I think we have good opportunities in our local area of New Bedford right there which doesn’t have a lot of dispensaries. There are a couple that are going to open sometime this year, but I would like to do delivery with that social equity license. There’s a moratorium on any of the non-social equity licenses doing delivery. There’s a three-year moratorium, so all the MSOs — multi state operators — won’t be able to do it, and then some of the other places that open that aren’t such equity, can’t do delivery. 

I think that for me, the next step is delivery. Knowing that I don’t really want to have another storefront, minus Taunton. That third storefront, I don’t really want to have, I would much rather service the market with delivery, which I don’t need 70 employees for. I could keep it small. Like I said, I want to keep a small, lean and clean company. So delivery is that next step.

NBL: Some more questions about social equity licenses. Who do those licenses serve?

CD: Areas that were disproportionately affected by the drug war, people that are affected by the drug war, veterans, there’s a couple other categories. It puts people — a lot of the out of state companies, MSOs, publicly traded companies, they already have a lot of money — so it gives more scope [to] the people who maybe don’t have that capital investment. So a little cheaper to get in, a little easier to get in. You still have to have the same standards, don’t get me wrong, but at the entry level, to get in you don’t need as much capital. Someone with a micro-grow, a 5,000-square-foot grow, stuff like that. It just makes the entry a little easier. Which it should be. 

There’s a little bit of a difference between this publicly traded company that just raised $200 million, and then you have this local that, you know, maybe went to jail for five years for selling cannabis. I think he should have a shot, or she should have a shot of supporting [their] community that way. 

NBL: Does Bask hire folks who were previously incarcerated for cannabis related offenses.

CD: Yeah, there’s some leeway now. When we first opened, medical was like [no], they do a really extensive background check. They do state and federal — they go through their social media, which … people on social media, that doesn’t go away. The company that goes through it, they do a pretty extensive view of your life. 

Now, yes, we do hire people, and it works out great. I do believe that, you know, you did your time, all right, let’s move on with life. You shouldn’t be affected — something you did maybe 30 years ago shouldn’t affect your life today. That’s ridiculous, you already paid the time.

NBL: You mentioned a lot of times you have to sort of convince selectmen, city councilors, folks like that, to let you operate through host agreements. The bill right now in the Senate, S-801, is thinking about tightening restrictions on those host agreements. How do you feel about that?

CD: The Host Community Agreement, there’s no other businesses that are going to be taxed. If you’re going to open a bakery in your town, you’re not going to have to pay 3% of your gross to the town. Especially, the money is supposed to be used for the problems we bring to the town. Well, it turns out, we don’t bring any problems. There’s been a few towns that say, “hey, guess what, no more host committee agreements.”

I like that we’re part of the community. And I think that money that goes to Fairhaven and Freetown, I think it does a lot of good, but it’s freaking painful. It’s like, “hey, nobody else has to get treated that way.” I think it’s an illegal tax on a business. If it’s going to be us, why not everybody else? Why not every liquor store? 

We’re already getting high taxes for cannabis itself, and now we have to do 3% of our gross — and I have to pay the taxes on that? It makes me a little bit bitter, but I also know that it’s not going to be forever. And let’s bite the tongue and then hopefully, it goes away. 

We have a letter from Fairhaven [that reads], “you’ve had no negative impact on the town.” The only thing that we have had — we’ve tripped our own alarm a few times, and we’d have to pay 75 bucks a pop for that. I understand why they put (the 3%) in, and there’s a lot of towns that really need it, and I’m happy we get to help with that. But I do look forward to it eventually going away.

NBL: Was there anything that I didn’t ask you that you’re just dying to talk about? Anything at all about growing, selling the industry, yourself? Anything like that?

CD: What’s the hardest part of my job? I used to be more cultivation-centric. I ran the grow, and then finally gave the reins to Christian who has done an amazing job.  But I was never trained to run a 120-person company. 

I love it. I still love cannabis. There’s a lot of work that goes into it. And it’s pretty hard. For me, the hardest part of my job is when you have to let somebody go. Maybe that person is a great person and they want to work here, but not everybody should work here …  

You try to keep everybody happy. Everybody has good attitudes here. That’s another thing — identifying people that are toxic right away. And like, “hey, that’s not the way we want to be.” But that’s probably the hardest part of the job is just having to look at somebody and say, “we have to let you go,” and to try to do it without crushing somebody’s dreams.

Sawyer Smook-Pollitt is a New Bedford-based freelance writer and frequent correspondent for The New Bedford Light.

Editor’s note: This and other In Person interviews are sometimes edited for clarity and length.

Thank you to our sponsors

Founding benefactors: Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Mary and Jim Ottaway