Farmer to pot commission: Turn to us for advice

  • Cannabis leaf isolated on white background Boltenkoff

Staff Reporter
Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Driving west on Route 2 three months ago, Jennifer Flanagan hoped to hear from a local farmer regarding the Cannabis Control Commission’s upcoming regulations.

Not until long into two hours of testimony in Greenfield Tuesday, when New Salem vegetable farmer Keith Zorn decided to come forward, did Flanagan and the rest of the commission hear from a farmer.

“If you make it inaccessible to these small farmers, who are experienced growing plants in a climate like this, then you’re just welcoming large companies who have the capital to put up big and small warehouses, indoor growing facilities,” said Zorn, who attended the farming program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Zorn was among the approximately 60 people at a formal public hearing in the John W. Olver Transit Center. The hearing was part of listening tours the commission is running in the lead up to finalization of its draft regulations.

Flanagan, one of five commissioners, helped draft regulations that included support for craft-marijuana cultivation to help the small farmers, especially those in western Mass. 

At Tuesday’s hearing, the main topics of testimony were the public health of children and how the pending regulations by the state could lead to the normalization of marijuana use by developing minds.

“It was refreshing today to hear about prevention and the public health concerns,” Flanagan said. “From my perspective, that’s been lacking in the public comment.”

Those voicing thoughts included department heads from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and health advocates like Dr. Ruth Potee, a local addiction expert. “I worry every single day that we’re launching down a new path of addiction for a new group of people,” Potee said. “This is our new future, but everything must be done to protect the developing brain.”

Also present were selectboard members from towns such as Deerfield and Conway, who spoke about zoning laws. And then there were businessmen, like those from Patriot Care — which announced its medical marijuana facility in Greenfield should be opening in March. Also speaking were lawyers pushing for the rights of businesses they’re representing.

Farmer’s perspective

Zorn’s comments also touched on the many that preceded his. He said if the commission and residents are concerned about the marketing and access to youth, then they should be turning to community farmers to help, and not big businesses.

“The folks who will care most about that are the community farmers, the farmers who are in those towns, who have grown healthy food for those people for the longest time,” Zorn said.

Flanagan said she was happy to hear the comments from Zorn.

“I share their concerns, and I understand the costs and the initiatives and some of the barriers to entry, but, again, this is a balancing act,” Flanagan said.

Deerfield Planning Board Chairman John Waite passed on similar sentiment to the commission, defending local farmers.

“You’re in a unique position … to help build some incentives to increase and build on what we have out here, support our farmers, and not allowing some corporations to come in and take over what they’re already doing,” Waite said.

Other voices

Cecelela Tomi noted that besides herself, there were just a couple of other people of color in the room Tuesday. The Leverett resident said she wanted to make sure there was sufficient education to the public on what is legal and in doing so, make sure the state was reaching communities that have been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana.

Similarly, Community Action’s Director of Youth Programming Lev Ben-Ezra advocated for the rights of low-income residents and minorities, saying: “We want to make sure we’re protecting all of youth and, in particular, the populations who are especially vulnerable.”

She also pushed to limit the exposure and access to young people by requesting the commission remove a provision allowing home delivery of recreational marijuana, with the worry of fake IDs being used to get marijuana this way.

Ben-Ezra spoke of education around what the legalization of marijuana means, especially for people living in public housing, where federal laws still make marijuana illicit, leading to potential evictions.

Echoing others, Ben-Ezra said the commission should make sure zoning laws do not allow for retail locations near public and private schools, after school programs and day cares.

“I want to make sure that while we ensure safe reliable access to adults, that our young people and our teens can hang out on the sidewalks of our downtowns and our city centers and our communities,” Ben Ezra said.

Phoebe Walker, representative of Communities that Care Coalition and Partnerships for Youth program through the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, pointed to clarifications in the regulations, including that local health boards oversee the edible element of cannabis regulations.

Pacing regulation?

Many of those present expressed interest in the commission creating tighter laws that can later be relaxed. This, they said, would allow towns at the local level to regulate at a more manageable pace.

That wasn’t the opinion of Montague’s David Jensen, who said it should in fact be the other way — loosening the belt of regulations and then tightening it when holes come up.

“We’re not as wise as we hope to be,” said Jensen, who is also the outgoing building inspector of Montague. “I would urge of a slightly more hands-off approach for some of the fine tune items here.”

Contacting the commission

To submit your comments on the Cannabis Control Commission’s draft regulations, contact cannabiscommission@state.ma.us or by mail at Cannabis Control Commission, 101 Federal St., 13th Floor, Boston, MA 02110.

All testimony must be submitted by 5 p.m. Feb. 15.

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