Lee Select Board signs off on another proposal for marijuana production

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LEE — Cannabis is fast becoming the cash crop of choice in Lee.

A veteran medical marijuana grower in Washington state has become the third entrepreneur to receive Select Board approval to cultivate and manufacture pot products in town.

Preston Maki, co-founder of Rain City Farming, now can focus on getting the necessary license from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission to operate an indoor growing facility. Maki, who lives in Lee, plans to erect a 3,500-square-foot indoor growing facility on a vacant lot in the Quarry Hill Business Park, nearly 2 miles from Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Two other proposed indoor marijuana cultivation/manufacturing projects in Lee are seeking a CCC license to operate. Nathan, Nick and Ben Girard, of Pittsfield, under the name Higher Purpose, look to operate at 815 Pleasant St. (Route 102), currently occupied by Oraceutical, makers of oral care products. The largest cultivation/manufacturing pot factory would be at the former 159,000-square-foot Greylock Mill. California-based Franz Chan, CEO of Zipbox, is the driving force behind revitalizing the paper mill, vacant since 2008.

The Select Board approved the Girards' local permit in December, while Zipbox got the board's approval in May.

Because of site constraints, Rain City Farming can only be built on 1 acre of the 4-acre parcel, which is one reason the company is starting small.

"We want to get our feet wet, then we'll expand," Maki told The Eagle after the Select Board approved his special permit Tuesday.

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Maki has a cannabis-growing background, having cultivated medical marijuana for 10 years in the Seattle area before moving to Shrewsbury to be close to family.

The Rain City Farming business plan is to initially hire up to 10 people and distribute outside the Berkshires more than 50 percent of his marijuana product from the Quarry Hill facility.

Maki is sticking with cultivation over retail, seeing a growing demand to produce the marijuana needed to sell in stores across the commonwealth.

"If we grow it, people will buy it," he said.

Quarry Hill could host another marijuana-growing facility if Canna Provisions gets its special permit from the Select Board and its CCC license.

Canna wants to build a 32,800-square-foot building, 20,000 feet of which would be greenhouse space, on an 8-acre parcel at the business park. Canna Chief Operating Officer Erik Williams says only 4 acres are usable, because of wetland constraints. The Lee Conservation Commission on Wednesday backed the project, finding that it won't adversely affect the wetlands. Canna also needs Lee Planning Board support before the Select Board considers the special permit.

Canna will make its retail debut in Lee on Friday, selling recreational marijuana products at its store on Housatonic Street, just off the MassPike.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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