Linda Noel, a co-founder of MassCann/NORML and its current treasurer, is also an active and practicing farmer, growing heirloom tomatoes in Franklin. Here are her thoughts about cannabis farming these days.
Are you looking to grow cannabis yourself? If so, where?
Yes, here in Franklin. My brother and I have 40 acres, and I have a greenhouse. I’ve been growing tomatoes for 20 years. I want to grow medicinal hemp as well as medical marijuana.
What hurdles currently stand in the way of a potential cannabis farmer?
The $15,000 entrance fee specified in chapter 334 [the current law] would knock me right out of the market. I wouldn’t be a large enough operation to absorb that. Part of the omnibus bill currently being negotiated in the legislature may include licenses for small-scale grows of less than 2,500 square feet with a smaller fee. Some of the legislators are genuinely concerned.
Are the obstacles different for cannabis and hemp?
The bill that was passed last December that allowed cities and towns to exclude cannabis cultivation didn’t distinguish between recreational cannabis and hemp. They really need to repeal that. As it stands, I would have to get a zoning exclusion to farm cannabis, which my town might or might not grant. And that is strange, because the federal farm bill of 2014 granted permission for every state to set up a hemp cultivation program. Yet the state of Massachusetts has resisted that and been more restrictive than the feds.
Are there any organizations that support cannabis farming?
Many members of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) have expressed interest and have been talking with their legislators about cannabis farming. And the Farm Bureau Federation of Massachusetts is also interested in hearing the opinions and concerns of farmers, including cannabis farmers. Neither organization has taken an official position about cannabis farming.
What else can potential cannabis farmers do to further their cause?
They should contact their legislators immediately, asking them to allow MDAR [the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture] to oversee production of cannabis. Ask them to support Denise Provost’s bill, H3195, which would do that. Co-chairman [Mark] Cusack [of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy] is also interested in hearing from potential cannabis farmers from any district. The legislature is looking to wrap up some kind of bill this month, so don’t put it off.
Andy Gaus is a Massachusetts-based cannabis advocate and a member of MassCann-NORML.