MA: Community Meeting Set On Proposed Marijuana Greenhouse In Charlton

Photo Credit: Uriel Sinai

A community meeting on a $100 million proposal to construct a large-scale marijuana cultivation, sales and research center on Charlton Orchards land is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Charlton Middle School.

Charlton Orchards Group LLC is selling its 94-acre farm at 44 Old Worcester Road to Valley Green Grow, which plans to construct a multi-tenant greenhouse, about 1 million square feet in size, to cultivate cannabis for both medical and recreational sales.

It would be the second such operation of this size in the state. The first is in Freetown, just outside Fall River.

Charlton selectmen approved a host agreement with Valley Green Grow, which is based in North Andover, on May 15.

The next day selectmen faced backlash from residents concerned about the effects the operation might have on quality of life and property values.

Oncologist Jeffrey Goldstein is CEO of Valley Green Grow, incorporated and limited liability companies established March 2017.

Dr. Goldstein and his wife, commercial realtor Orit Goldstein, hold dual citizenship in the United States and Israel, where Dr. Goldstein is vice chairman of the Cannabis Research Center at Sheba Medical Center.

During his four years as attending radiation oncologist and director of residency training at Sheba, he became interested in the prevalent use of medical cannabis in lieu of narcotics for pain and nausea control, and appetite improvement, in cancer patients.

Today, his focus is on building a cannabis business and medical research facility in Charlton, and he has assembled a team of experts for the project.

“Our intent is to cultivate cannabis using techniques modified from the commercial horticultural industry that eliminate adverse impacts and allow us to be an asset to our host community,” Dr. Goldstein said in an interview. “We wish to create an economically sustainable enterprise that manages responsibly: air emissions and odors, water, solid waste, electric use, traffic, and offers our community desirable jobs, tax revenue, and economic activity.”

A similar cannabis proposal by the Goldstein team in North Andover failed to gain town meeting support in January.

The search began for a host community that voted yes to legalize marijuana in 2016, had no moratoriums or bans, and was willing to host.

“We were looking for efficient commercial horticulture. We need size and scale that allows us to have electricity generation, onsite composting, and water regeneration,” Dr. Goldstein said.

They found Charlton Orchards and began talks with town officials.

The host agreement calls for a greenhouse of 1 million to 3 million square feet. Dr. Goldstein said the Valley Green Grow plan is for 1 million square feet of mature canopy, which is equivalent to about 17 football fields, plus another 500,000 square feet in ancillary buildings. The cultivation operation would employ about 300 people.

A driveway off Route 20 is planned for the sales operations, while Route 20 access to the cultivation site is preferred but uncertain at this time.

Dr. Goldstein said the site will have a well-engineered odor mitigation system.

“Even though it’s a greenhouse structure, it’s a closed greenhouse. All emissions are scrubbed and the CO2 is returned to the facility,” he said. “We’re going to put up a bond. If there is a problem, we are going to fix it. We will bring in engineers to put in another layer of solution to it.”

Rain water reclamation, an electricity generation byproduct, and on-site wells would supply the water needs. Solid waste would be composted on site.

Regarding home values in the area, Dr. Goldstein said economic valuation studies in Colorado found counties with legalized cannabis had a greater increase in housing and commercial valuation. He attributed the increase to job generation, thereby causing people to move to the town, and increased revenue that in turn provides better town services and schools.

Valley Green Grow seeks to start construction this year.

“We would start building in phases,” Dr. Goldstein said. “We want to make sure everything is going well and we’re not having a negative impact on neighbors before continuing.”

Neighbors and residents across town began protesting when the pact was made public. They have called for selectmen to reverse their decision and have organized an opposition group called Preserve Charlton’s Character.

Group spokeswoman Kristin Kustigian said residents are objecting to the process undertaken by selectmen and the potential project impact.

“A year ago, petitions were circulated asking selectmen for a local vote before considering any host agreements,” she said in an interview. “We got no voice then, and I think that’s frustrating a lot of people now. The processes, so far, have lacked transparency.”

Town Administrator Robin L. Craver told selectmen the deal is expected to bring annual revenue of more than $2 million in fees, as well as all applicable real and property taxes.

Although Valley Green Grow has what is needed from selectmen to proceed, the project is subject to multi-jurisdictional review and approvals by the town and state.