Recreational marijuana is set to become legal in July 1st, 2018 in Massachusetts. What this means is that people will be able to purchase marijuana from commercial retail outlets. Officials are committed to making this deadline but marijuana implementation can be fraught with regulatory uncertainty. After all, it is still an illegal drug at the Federal level, in the same category as heroin and cocaine. While many indicate that this a ludicrous situation (with Canadian residents being turned away for admitting to using an “illegal substance” thought it is permitted in their home country) it does not seem that it is going to change any time soon.
Marijuana in Massachusetts
A number of famers are hoping to get in on the marijuana industry. It makes sense, as they have made their living for years growing crops (hopefully organic). They have the farmland, the tools and the experience, so it is only natural for them to make the transition to a crop that could make them far more money that traditional crops. And it has the added benefit of being local marijuana sold by friendly faces, not received from a clerk at a medical dispensary counter where the toxin levels of the substance are highly questionable. According to farmer Ted Dobson:
“Having protected myself from wildlife for years and, if necessary, people, no farmer’s going to allow any cash crop to get stolen…We’ll take necessary precautions.”
This may be true; however many first-time growers are a little shocked as to how difficult growing marijuana actually is. The first crop is an inevitable failure, as growers have to take into account the PH levels, the number of nutrients, the humidity, the temperature, the lighting, odor control, watering, pest control, ventilation, pruning, storage and so on. People who have been growing marijuana for years have a huge advantage over farmers who think they can grow marijuana because they have grown potatoes. And once a successful crop is grown there is still the issue of marketing, pricing and distribution, which might be beyond the skills of traditional farmers. The other side of this is that locally sold marijuana might just be its own marketing and distribution. Many would prefer local and organic marijuana.
A New Marijuana Model
A new model is in place in relation to marijuana growth in Massachusetts. Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, introduced an amendment, which became law as part of a comprehensive cannabis bill, that will allow for craft cooperatives.The cooperative model lets farmers band together to grow a limited amount of marijuana and split the costs and profits. The Cannabis Control Commission and the Department of Agricultural Resources will develop the rules for the cooperatives, including how much the licensing fee will be and what the limits are on ownership and marijuana growth. More importantly, this would allow the growers to pool their expertise, money and equipment together. It reduces the risk for individual farmers striking out on their own and will ensure a better-quality product that will adhere to all the rules and guidelines. It lowers the barrier of entry for famers and lets them gain access to the market in a fair manner.The craft cooperative deal has been likened to specialty marijuana growth. While there will be many brands of common generic marijuana, these craft marijuana operations will generate specialty marijuana for connoisseurs, providing expert brands of marijuana.
Big Business v Local Famers
The medical marijuana industry is not suited for local farmers, as outdoor or green house cultivation is, for some reason, not permitted. A far more intelligent mode of operation would simply be to lessen up on growing regulations and tighten up on testing operations. Regardless of the method of growth once it contains certain levels of compounds and a very low level of toxins (which are a huge threat at present in this new market) then the marijuana would be good to go. It also costs $1 million to enter the market, just like in Pennsylvania, which pretty much puts the medical marijuana industry back in the hands of bug businesses, the same way painkillers are in the hands of giant multinational pharmaceutical complexes. It is really the opposite of an open and true free market where people can buy and sell as they please. Were local farmers allowed to grow their own crop without any stringent bureaucratized requirements which would kill off a local and organic industry, it could see the growth of high quality specialized and organic marijuana in the region. Dobson argues his organically grown outdoor cannabis would be more natural than cannabis grown in an indoor, hydroponic growing facility.
Outdoor farmers will need to figure out whether they can grow marijuana that avoids cross-contamination and that meets Massachusetts’ strict testing requirements for items such as mold, metal and pesticides. It is likely that hemp will be an easier crop for farmers to grow. One big potential barrier that remains is security — one of the areas where the Cannabis Control Commission still needs to write rules.Farming groups worry the security requirements could be cost-prohibitive. For example, indoor growing facilities can be closed warehouses protected by fancy camera and surveillance systems. An outdoor farm would need to rely on fencing and different types of cameras. According to Dobson:
“If you’re going to make the security issue a wedge issue, this is how they’ll keep us out,”