Forget tomatoes and microgreens. Cannabis is about to enter the Massachusetts marketplace, and according to some estimates it’s poised to become a $1.1 billion industry within just a few years. That would mean cannabis alone would exceed the entire total market value of all Massachusetts agricultural products (which comes in at just shy of $500 million).
With so much money on the line, it’s no surprise that there is widespread disagreement on how the ballot questions should be amended or interpreted. Some issues being considered by the legislature – most notably the rate of cannabis taxation, driving under the influence, and local control – have received plenty of attention. But given that this is a plant we’re talking about, and one that commands a colossal price tag at market, it’s worth exploring what opportunities farmers may find this in the emerging recreational cannabis and hemp markets.
Ballot Question and Aftermath
If you’re like the majority of voters, you probably didn’t read the fine print of the cannabis ballot question that we, the citizens, approved back in November 2016. If you did, you may have noticed that it was equivocal about by whom and how this plant should be cultivated. While the original bill didn’t outright prohibit farmers from entering the cannabis market, it did set up some strong barriers to entry: the cost of a marijuana cultivation license was set at a maximum of $15,000, with no scale-appropriate exceptions. On top of that, the law also stipulated that cultivators would need to install significant security features such as “lighting, video and alarm”as well as securing any storage and transportation of cannabis. If a farmer wanted to grow in a field or greenhouse, they would have to install perimeter fencing and ensure that their cannabis plants aren’t visible from public places.
The original law also gave first priority of cultivation licenses to medical marijuana establishments, an industry that does not allow outdoor or greenhouse growing operations whatsoever. Essentially, that meant that farmers and gardeners who aren’t already growing medical cannabis would have to wait at least two years to enter a lottery for a cultivation license.