WILLIAMSTOWN — The smell of growing marijuana isn’t that bad. That’s the view of the owner of a cannabis cultivation facility in Pittsfield and the chairman of the Sheffield Planning Board.
There is an odor produced, and efforts can be made to minimize it, but in those two places it hasn’t generated much discontent. That’s one of the things discussed during a Wednesday forum hosted by Stephanie Boyd, chairwoman of the Williamstown Planning Board. Her panel is gathering information as it considers a bylaw to regulate cannabis growing in town.
Joining Boyd for the virtual forum were Ken Smith, chairman of the Sheffield Planning Board; Suehiko Ono, CEO and chief operating officer of EOS Farm in Pittsfield (a large outdoor cannabis cultivation site); and Nicole Costanzo and Joel Bard, from KP Law, Williamstown’s legal counsel. Andrew Groff, director of community development for Williamstown, also took part.
Early in the meeting, Boyd noted that a bylaw passed in 2017 allows cannabis cultivation with a special permit in the Rural Residential 2 and Rural Residential 3 zoning areas, and in Limited Industrial zones.
But, there have been a number of residents pushing for further limitations on marijuana growing.
At one point, Boyd asked Ono about the smell of marijuana crops, a topic that raises the most concern among residents.
Ono said that there definitely is a smell during the flowering stage of growth. But, he said he once lived near a corn farm, and the smell of cow manure fertilizer spread over the soil is far more objectionable — “It was nearly unbearable” — and that the odor can cause respiratory conditions. But, there never has been any harm shown from the odor of growing marijuana.
“Beyond that, it’s really just a matter of personal preference — whether or not you like the smell,” Ono said.
He noted that the short growing season means that any aroma of growing weed won’t last long, possibly 45 to 60 days.
Smith noted that Sheffield has two working marijuana farms that have been through the growing season twice.
“That first year, one of the two did have an odor noticed by the public,” he noted. “But, as of this year, there have been no complaints, and we couldn’t even smell anything.”
He also said that there have been no issues with either grower, and they have been working with the town to “do the right thing.”
Ono said that any outdoor cannabis grow needs to have greenhouse space to germinate the plants during the early spring to avoid weather and frost issues. At a certain stage when the weather is right and the plants are stable, they are replanted outside, where they will grow until harvest time.
It helps to mitigate the relatively short New England growing season.
Smith said there isn’t much concern in Sheffield about cannabis cultivation, and he wouldn’t mind seeing other growers apply for a special permit.
Costanzo said a town can benefit from a cannabis cultivation business by receiving community impact fees that could be included in the host community agreement, by property taxes on enhanced land values, and from the hiring of local labor and volunteer efforts of the staff.
Once in full production, Ono noted, he will be hiring up to 15 workers, more than half of them from Pittsfield.
Ono leases land from Bittersweet Farm in Pittsfield. Similar arrangements with local farms could provide financial stability for those operations and for local food production.
“Most of the farmers I know are struggling to pay the bills,” he said.
As for the future of the marijuana business in Massachusetts, Ono said that, in four or five years, he expects to see the market saturated. In other words, there will be more product than demand for it. At that point, the prices will go down and some growers who are less profitable will have a hard time. Some will have to close. Once that happens, the industry will stabilize, and there will be some consolidating.
“The market potential in Massachusetts is quite large,” he said, but only about 20 to 25 percent of that demand is being grown right now.
When there is enough product to meet demand, Massachusetts will see annual marijuana sales in the range of $2.2 billion, Ono said, based on what has been happening in Colorado, which is slightly less populated than the Bay State.