Massachusetts farmers who want to grow marijuana struggle with local zoning
Monson farmer Lia Reilly wants to grow cannabis.
“I want to do it with sunlight, lots of organic nutrients, and I don’t want to grow in a warehouse,” Reilly said.
But Reilly has a problem: her farm is zoned rural residential, and the town of Monson only allows marijuana to be grown on industrial land.
“I am disappointed that the town of Monson would consider cannabis cultivation to be something that should be industrial zone only, when it is a plant that I would like to grow on my farm,” Reilly said. “I don’t see the purpose in keeping farmers who have farmland from growing a crop.”
The licensing process opened this month for growers who want to cultivate cannabis for the state’s newly legal recreational marijuana industry. But under a provision of the law passed by the state Legislature, farmers do not automatically have a right to grow cannabis, as they have a right to grow other crops.
Instead, a marijuana grower can only operate in places where the city or town zones for marijuana.
Farmers say larger industrial growers can choose where to locate a facility — but local farmers are being blocked.
Many towns are still considering how to deal with marijuana, whether through a moratorium, ban, cap on retail stores or zoning. But so far, 65 communities have banned marijuana permanently, and 161 have moratoriums in place, generally until the end of the year, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
Even in communities that allow marijuana, zoning restricts where it can be grown. Of 120 communities considering zoning bylaws, 44 have approved them, according to the Municipal Association.
Eric Schwartz co-founded Farm Bug Cooperative, which will provide services like marketing and bulk buying to multiple farmer growers. He has been in touch with 15 or 20 farmers who