Pushback by Columnist Al Norman: Reefer Madness

  • Al Norman FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/17/2022 7:06:43 PM
Modified: 5/17/2022 7:04:57 PM

This is a story you can smell a mile away.

It begins in 1983, when a Greenfield family signed an agricultural preservation restriction with the Massachusetts Commission of Food & Agriculture to place a covenant “in perpetuity” on 103 acres at 446 Country Club Road. The restriction granted by the family and their heirs stipulated that “no use shall be made of the Premises, and no activity thereon shall be permitted ... which may be inconsistent with the intent of this grant, being the perpetual protection and preservation of agricultural land.”

The covenant requires that no building, asphalt driveway, road, parking lot, or other structures or improvements can be constructed on the land and no subdivision or division of the premises into two or more lots is permitted. Only the state can approve changes in proposed use, and only after a finding that the proposed use “shall not defeat or derogate from the intent” of providing for “the perpetual protection and preservation of agricultural land.” In return for these restrictions, the taxpayers of Massachusetts wrote a check for $70,000 to the family.

The heirs ended “in perpetuity” 39 years later, when reefer madness started. The heirs met with three out-of-state developers with newly minted limited liability corporations (LLCs) — all with the same business address — who wanted to lease 20 acres to cultivate 300,000 square feet of marijuana canopy in three distinct, fenced-in areas. That’s 6.9 acres of outdoor cannabis, or 5.2 football fields of dope, not counting finishing buildings, setbacks, roads and parking lots.

The developers, and their hired handlers, approached city officials, and by mid-January 2022, the mayor signed three host community agreements in which the city agreed “to support the Company’s application with the Licensing Authority,” but made “no promise that it will act on any other license or permit request in any particular way.” The three developers each are seeking a state license to operate at the state limit of 100,000 square feet of cultivation.

It wasn’t until a month later, on Feb. 17, at a state-required “community outreach meeting,” that a handful of homeowners abutting this mega-marijuana monster first learned of its location and scale. At this virtual meeting, the developer was required to give residents “information adequate to demonstrate that the location will not constitute a nuisance.”

The lawyer representing the corporations told abutters: “The Cannabis Control Commission requires you can’t cause a nuisance in the form of odor. Odor is the prime culprit.” He said there would be “companion plantings that emit a smell that would compete with and mask the smell of cannabis.” “We can’t stink up the joint, no matter what,” he assured.

According to one marijuana industry consultant, “The strong odors produced by growing cannabis are often described as pungent, skunky ... even ‘sewer-like.’ ... Some odors from cannabis farms have been detected more than a mile from their source.”

This skunky odor emitted by terpenes in marijuana is the reason that the Pittsfield City Council, on a 10-1 vote, banned outdoor cultivations last February. “This is not an attack on cannabis,” one Pittsfield city councilor told WAMC radio. “I support indoor cultivation. Even though there have been some issues with smell you can control, you can adjust things, you can buy machinery that can control smell. You can’t control outdoor smell.”

Greenfield zoning allows cannabis cultivation in only four of its 11 zoning districts. But the Rural Residential (RC) district is the only zone where an outdoor cultivation is allowed by special permit. These developers will have to get two-thirds of the Greenfield Zoning Board of Appeals to find that this huge project is consistent with the residential neighborhood character, and that the odor is not a nuisance. In March of 2021, our City Council voted to remove a 5,000-square-foot zoning cap on the size of cannabis cultivations which had been in place since 2018, leaving neighborhoods like Country Club Road exposed.

At the Greenfield Economic Development Committee meeting on May 10, more than 115 frustrated residents voiced their support for a moratorium on outdoor marijuana cultivation, and the provision of “margins of safety” for homeowners. EDC Chairman Philip Elmer closed his opening statement this way: “I have to warn the growers, that if they don’t honor the will of the Council — if they go plow right ahead on these three Tier 11 fields — they will have made enemies of Greenfield residents, who are as angry as I’ve ever seen in this town.”

The goal of prioritizing profits, not people, is stinking up the whole joint.

Al Norman’s Pushback column appears every third Wednesday. Comments can be emailed to info@sprawl-busters.com.

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