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Cannabis Businesses Face East Coast Zoning Headaches

  • Obtaining a state license to legally grow, cultivate, and sell weed is increasingly difficult due to zoning discrepancies, even within legalized states.
  • Robert Head, CEO of Blue Cord Farms and Maine-based Pleasant Mountain Organics. “If I was growing corn, I wouldn’t need to go to the city and get special permits to grow corn.”
  • CannaAdvisors– a Colorado-based consulting firm– “urges its clients to focus on outreach and meeting with city council members and the building and zoning departments.”
  • CannaAdvisor’s CEO Diane Czarkowsk: Having a deep understanding of the culture and history of weed, helps developing cannabis businesses become educators of the importance, benefits, and inherent  value of the crop.
Cannabis Businesses Face East Coast Zoning Headaches

While securing a state license can be daunting, getting approval from local municipalities to establish a cannabis business within their city limits can pose its own set of challenges, from moratoriums to impossible zoning requirements.

CannaAdvisors, a Colorado-based cannabis consultancy, worked with some of the first licensees in Massachusetts’ medical marijuana program and has clients looking to enter the upcoming adult-use market. “Massachusetts in particular has been so much driven by the challenges at the local level,” Founding Partner Diane Czarkowski tells Cannabis Business Times.

One of the requirements for obtaining a cannabis business license in the state is a letter of non-opposition from the local municipality that shows, in writing, that the city or town does not prohibit the cannabis operation, she says. Receiving this clearance has been difficult for some businesses, Czarkowski adds.

“Really, in all cases—Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont—they have left it to the decision of the local municipality of whether or not they want to pass moratoriums [or] whether they want to have their own sets of zoning requirements, which sometimes even involves having a town hall meeting,” Czarkowski adds.

Despite legalization bills passing strongly by municipalities’ constituents, cities and towns can sometimes have a “not in my backyard” mentality. As Czarkowski describes it, voters may think, “it’s OK to have it in the state, but we don’t want it here.”

“With zoning, we are treated unfairly, in my view, [compared to] other industries,” adds Robert Head, CEO of Blue Cord Farms and Maine-based Pleasant Mountain Organics. “If I was growing corn, I wouldn’t need to go to the city and get special permits to grow corn.”

Head and Blue Cord Farms are based in Texas and manage the business side of Pleasant Mountain Organics, his business partner’s farm, which has two greenhouses and participates in Maine’s caregiver program. The farm is permitted by law to grow 30 plants per caregiver and is maxed out with three caregivers and 90 flowering plants.

“[The municipality’s] got to be concerned with their own constituents and the people in the city who also don’t know much about it, and because they have to, they wind up implementing these laws … to make the people feel better [about the cannabis industry], but don’t do anything but hurt the actual industry and the person,” Head says. “It is a growing pain.”

Moratoriums

Many places have not distinguished between medical and adult-use marijuana, Czarkowski adds, and ban all cannabis businesses from operating within their borders.

Head, however, says that many municipalities in Maine have made a distinction between medical and recreational. The City of Warren, where Pleasant Mountain Organics is located, will not allow cultivators to grow cannabis for the adult-use market, although they are permitted to continue growing medical marijuana under the state’s caregiver program, he says.

“The city is stating that they don’t want to have these large companies coming in here and having massive fields of cannabis growing because maybe the smell or something of that nature,” he says. “And I can see that, but I think the problem … is that the law was written so that you wouldn’t have large facilities operating out there, so you wouldn’t have 30 acres of marijuana just growing out in the open. You set up canopies in a certain way.”

Prohibiting cultivators from growing for the adult-use market has a negative financial impact on the medical community, Head adds. “For example, there are many caregivers out there who…

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