By Doug Karlson

For years Sandwich resident Spencer Knowles has been laying the groundwork for a fledgling cannabis industry on Cape Cod. While he kept his day job in wine distribution, he worked on the side to promote the cannabis industry as a way to foster jobs and improve the region’s economy. Last year, judging the industry was ready, Knowles made what he describes as a “huge career move.”

“I always knew that I wanted to be in the industry, but the industry was still very young, medicinal only. The opportunity didn’t exist,” says Knowles, who is now vice president of  Sales & Business Development at Sira Naturals.

Sira Naturals is based in Woburn and Milford, where it has a grow facility. The company  has three medical marijuana dispensaries located in Cambridge, Somerville and Needham. It was also the first Massachusetts company to receive a license to cultivate, manufacture and transport recreational cannabis products.

“My goal was and still is to promote an industry,” says Knowles, co-founder of Regulate Cape Cod, whose mission is to raise awareness of the benefits of a regulated and taxed marijuana industry.

As he advocated for the cannabis industry, Knowles built a relationship with Michael Dundas, president and CEO of Sira Naturals, who agreed to speak at Regulate Cape Cod events organized by Knowles.

“He’s always been an advocate for helping municipal leaders make informed decisions,” Knowles says of Dundas.

That networking eventually led to a job offer. “Sira came to the realization that they needed someone like me to help lead sales,” says Knowles.

He says that as more retailers open, there’s a shortage of supply, so Sira’s wholesale business is growing.

Knowles says municipal bottlenecks are delaying permission to add recreational cannabis sales to Sira’s three dispensaries.  While it waits for permission to open its own recreational dispensaries, it cultivates, processes and wholesales recreational marijuana and cannabis products.

“We literally and figuratively are growing our business,” says Knowles, a 12th generation Cape Codder who grew up in Orleans.

To grow the business, Knowles has built up a sales and marketing team, and Sira is now supplying about 60 percent of the recreational use stores in the state, or about 34 locations.

“Wholesale is important now, because no one is producing enough to supply their own stores,” explains Knowles.

He explains that that’s because there are not currently any licenses being granted for adult use production, only for companies like Sira that are vertically integrated medical marijuana businesses. But Knowles says that will change with time.

Whereas medical dispensaries are required to be vertically integrated, that is, to grow what they sell, recreational cannabis retails stores are not.  Knowles says the model of the future will be that stores focus on sales, and wholesalers focus on growing and distribution.  He cites Caroline’s Cannabis of Uxbridge, an independent retail store that does not grow its own product, as an example of what he says retail model will look like.

At Sira, Knowles is responsible for managing the sales and marketing teams, helping to supervise the retail operations at the dispensaries, working with the production team to create new products, and he is in charge of product purchasing.

A history major at Norwich University, Knowles draws a parallel to the growth of the wine industry after the repeal of Prohibition with the current trajectory of the cannabis industry. “Wine is a mature industry, and cannabis is my generation’s prohibition…. I look at it as a way to make history, and I get goosebumps when I think about it,” he says.

He also sees it as an economic opportunity for his peers on the Cape. “That really keeps me going,” he says.

Knowles stresses that there are multiple licensed business activities in the cannabis industry, not just retail sale of recreational cannabis.  He doesn’t want Cape communities to miss out on the economic potential and would like to see the industry flourish here. “I have to drive two-and-a-half hours a day, minimum, to be in this industry, and I don’t want to have to do that. We do anticipate stores to open on the Cape in 2020 so that’s exciting.”

He notes a message he recently received from a person who moved to Colorado to work in the cannabis industry but now wants to move back to the Cape.

Knowles says cannabis industry skills are worth more here in Massachusetts – often double that of Colorado – because the industry is gearing up, and the workforce is in demand.

“We’re bullish on the future, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work,” he says. “Until then I’m going to make sure I can do all I can to help supply retailers on the Cape.”