In response, the Cannabis Control Commission established regulations allowing growers who have lived in Massachusetts for at least a year to join together, grow up to 100,000 square feet of marijuana plants among them, pay lower licensing fees and sell wholesale to marijuana retailers.
But so far, the Cannabis Control Commission has not licensed a single craft cooperative. As of July 18, only two cooperatives had submitted their complete applications, according to commission data: Canman in Milford and Roaring Glen Farms in Conway.
Interviews with growers and entrepreneurs involved with one fledgling cooperative, Farm Bug Co-op, shed some light on the challenges facing these organizations. While some of the challenges are unique to Farm Bug and no two businesses are alike, some are also likely to be the same problems facing other cooperatives.
“A craft co-op has a lot of regulatory items you have to check the box on,” said Eric Schwartz, co-founder of Farm Bug Co-op.
Throughout the marijuana industry, entrepreneurs are struggling to negotiate host community agreements and zoning with cities and towns. Municipalities have authority to ban marijuana businesses or restrict their zoning. Communities use agreements to negotiate fees and mandatory donations.
For cooperatives, the same difficulties apply, and those who want to grow on their existing farms have less flexibility to move to a new location.
Jessica Lee Allen’s family owns a 56-acre farm in Monson, which she is looking to make more profitable. While some of her neighbors turned to solar energy projects, Allen is considering marijuana. “The old ways of farmers producing eggs and milk and whatnot, they can’t stay afloat. We’ve got to think outside the box,” Allen said. “This opportunity is a way for us to think outside the box.”
But Allen has clashed with town officials regarding bylaws. She resigned from the town’s marijuana advisory committee after referring committee chairman Craig Sweitzer to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office over an open meeting law violation.
According to a ruling by Healey’s office, a video of a dispute during a meeting between Allen and Sweitzer over the size of buffer zones for marijuana growers was posted on a marijuana advocacy organization’s website, along with a criticism of Sweitzer’s position. Sweitzer sent a two-page emailed response to the video to other committee members, violating the state’s Open Meeting Law.
“I was the only person on the committee who wanted to have opportunity for farmers,” Allen said.
Allen obtained signatures to call a special town meeting to vote on bylaws she proposed, which would have allowed all types of marijuana businesses. But the planning board recommended against approving the bylaws. The bylaws got support from 92 voters, with 76 in opposition —18 votes short of the two-thirds threshold required to pass.