MRCC

Grow, Gift, Repair

More community members speak out at Pittsfield hearing.

Donna Norman, of Otis, who hopes to open a retail outlet, asked commission members to consider the interests of small players like local farmers.

“We have an amazing opportunity to build an industry from the ground up, and do it right,” she said. “We need big business out of this industry.”

Norman warned that when towns restrict cannabis businesses, they open doors to the illegal “gray” market.

Zoning issues are decided locally, not by the state panel. Hoffman said later he shares concerns that the moratoriums being adopted by communities complicate the law’s rollout.

Two Berkshire County men interested in growing cannabis urged the commission to keep costs as low as possible.

Dan Bergeron, of Lanesborough, co-owner of Gray Raven Farm, said security regulations in the draft rules can be costly — a point echoed by many.

Any company seeking to win a growing license as a cooperative, Bergeron said, should be a true co-op. “And not be big industry disguised as a co-op,” he said.

Lawrence Davis-Hollander, of Sheffield, who seeks to grow cannabis with his partner, Ted Dobson, said he sees the proposed rules as “onerous and reactive.”

“The smaller the farmer, the more costly it will be for them,” Davis-Hollander said.

He said startup costs will be punishing for farmers. “Except perhaps rich farmers — and I don’t know any.”

If he is able to secure a growing license, Davis-Hollander said rules governing the transportation of cannabis may be overkill for his operation, noting that products would be driven roughly three miles in Sheffield.

“There will be a locked box in there,” he said. “I don’t know what else we need.”

Any system that makes it hard for farmers to grow outdoors gives an unfair edge to industrial-scale indoor producers, he said.

Brandon Pollock, CEO of Theory Wellness, said one security measure in particular is expensive and could be adjusted in the rules.

Rather than require 24-hour camera surveillance every day of the week, which he said costs his own operation tens of thousands of dollars a year, the rule might allow motion-activated cameras.

“It would reduce their storage costs by an order of magnitude,” Pollock said.

He said it is cumbersome to examine the voluminous digital record when looking into security incidents. Theory Wellness operates a medical marijuana growing facility in Bridgewater and two dispensaries, in Bridgewater and Great Barrington. It expects to apply for a license to sell to the recreational market.

Theory Wellness devotes an entire server room to hold data captured by the current surveillance required by the state Department of Public Health.

Chris Penaherrera, who works at Berkshire Hydroponics, said costly surveillance rules will impede small, local businesses.

He also questioned why it should be harder to get a license for an event featuring cannabis than it is to host one serving alcohol.

“The biggest thing is that it’s not going to kill anybody,” he said of cannabis. “It’s really not harming communities.”

Lucas Thayer, who works in apple sales in the town of Harvard, urged Hoffman and Doyle to lower applications fees, to as little as $10 for the smallest growers.