Deerfield looks to legal marijuana commerce; 3 firms interested in growing there
DEERFIELD — Could the pungent smell of marijuana take the place of perfumed candles and pickle brine as the new scent of commerce wafting throughout this small farm town?
Deerfield town officials have said they do not oppose medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation farms in town. Rather, some see it as an opportunity for jobs.
“I’m not opposed,” said Selectman Chairman Mark Gilmore. “The only impact I could see is it would bring jobs in and more medical treatment, which is sanctioned by the state of Massachusetts.” Police Chief John Paciorek Jr. also said he is not against a medical marijuana operation in town. But he’d want to make sure it’s not overburdening public resources. Paciorek said there’s anxiety among communities trying to figure out what kind of impact a dispensary could have.
“No one wants to be that virgin community,” Paciorek said. “Communities are waiting to see what’s working.” Building Commissioner and Health Agent Richard Calisewski said he wouldn’t oppose the business, but that there should be a special permit process in place like any other business.
“It’s a multi-million dollar business. Should we have it in town? Yes, if it is a viable business,” Calisewski said. “I think we need to regulate it by special permit. I don’t think we should leave a major business unregulated.” Selectman Carolyn Shores Ness said she’d feel comfortable with marijuana cultivation as an allowed agricultural use in town. But she added dispensaries should have some restrictions on location.
“Marijuana cultivation is just another crop in my mind,” she said. “But I do have concerns with a dispensary. It has to be restricted to certain areas that are acceptable.” In November, Massachusetts voters approved a referendum legalizing marijuana for medical use. In May, the state Department of Health provided zoning, health and security regulations for the future dispensaries. The state is allowing 35 licenses — up to five per county.
The town leaders’ positions are in line with the majority of the townspeople.
During the state referendum, 68 percent of Deerfield voters supported legalizing marijuana for medical use. 1,999 to 927.
With the first phase of the statewide application process under way, Deerfield has received three inquiries to grow marijuana in the town, Interim Town Administrator Wendy Foxmyn said. The town hasn’t received any interest for dispensaries, though.
Owner of Pioneer Gardens Inc. Jaap Molenaar came before the Board of Selectmen this week to express his interest in turning his perennial plant business into a marijuana cultivation center. He has three acres of greenhouses on Mill Village Road he could use to grow marijuana. He did not know how many acres he’d use for the crop.
The marijuana cultivation wouldn’t require a special permit since it falls under agricultural use.
The retail side of the business, or the dispensary, would be done in another town. The cultivation and dispensary operations would fall under one license, Northampton lawyer Richard Evans, said.
While many towns are scrambling to pass moratoriums to allow planning boards time to develop local zoning regulations, Deerfield is taking its time to consider all the town’s options.
“Anyone that has a moratorium now takes themselves out of consideration for any development,” Gilmore said. “If the townspeople didn’t support it in the referendum, we’d have a moratorium already.” Passing a moratorium requires the Planning Board to hold a public hearing and a special town meeting. If the town chose this route, some officials said it may be too late to even be considered for a dispensary. The state aims to approve licenses by the end of the year.
Conway and Charlemont approved one-year moratoriums. Greenfield and Montague are considering moratoriums.
The selectmen this week gave the Planning Board, Paciorek and Calisewski the job of determining the impact a dispensary in town could have and if the town should consider a shortterm moratorium.
The fact that Deerfield has not put any moratorium in place or taken action could be a reason why developers are attracted to the town, Gilmore said.
And the town is also well known for its fertile farmland, Gilmore said.
“Deerfield has a very good location for growing anything. The cultivation of fruits and vegetables in the area is well done and well known,” Gilmore said.