MA: Whately Hears From First Potential Marijuana Grower

Photo Credit: Anthony Faiola

Scott Hutkoski’s Long Plain Farm on Christian Lane now stands first in line in the town, and for that matter, across Franklin County, to cultivate recreational marijuana.

In a couple of days, the state will begin its formal process of issuing licenses for the recreational marijuana industry, come June 1, with retail shops poised to open as early as July 1. But in Whately, it’s all about the cultivation, and from the business side of things, the race to be the first approved to grow in town.

These circumstances led to the first community outreach meeting Tuesday. This is a state requirement for a recreational marijuana establishment.

Tuesday evening at the Whately Town Offices marked the beginning of a whole new process — with Town Meeting and long planning board meetings to craft the local bylaw now in the rear view mirror.

Approaching Whately is Hutkoski’s partnership, Urban Grown Inc. The small, regional organization is led by longtime University of Massachusetts Amherst professor of agronomy Stephen Herbert.

At the meeting, before a smattering of mostly town officials and neighboring property owners, Herbert presented his business plan alongside two other knowledgeable business associates, the Northampton attorney Michael Cutler, who helped to draft the initial ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana, and the former Massachusetts agriculture commissioner Scott Soares, who’s now consulting in this field.

This team of local powerhouses in the marijuana world delivered a presentation that was fairly well received by some of the stakeholders, garnering them some “Thank you’s” by residents at the end of the hour-long session.

For Hutkoski and Herbert, in an ideal world, they will get their license from the state in August. The majority of the growing season will have past them by then.

Herbert estimated, when pressed by a resident, that his business could net somewhere between $300,000 to $500,000, and gross more than that; the town will likely see about 3 percent of the gross earnings of the local marijuana business. The gross earnings though could double overtime, Herbert said, as the team members get their legs under them in the industry.

The project, the presenters said, could be more profitable if they had decided to go with a different business model.

Instead of growing in an enclosed, industrial building — “not unlike the buildings Yankee Candle uses,” Soares said — the cooperation will grow in two preexisting greenhouses that the Whately farmer currently uses.

“This is as far as I’m aware, this is the only project that I’m aware of that’s doing anything with greenhouses at this point,” Soares said. The industrial setting is not “farmer friendly,” he added, and, “It isn’t what we see for an easier entry point for not only working with the community, but working with the farmers.”

Both greenhouses he’s looking at are about 3,000 square feet, Herbert said, and he is currently eyeing a license that will allow him to grow in up to 10,000 square feet. Herbert doesn’t plan at the moment to expand much beyond what he is currently proposing, but he does have his eyes on working with farmers in Hadley as well.

The facility, if it passes all of the hurdles along the way both municipally and with the state, will have to follow all of the local and state laws, naturally, which means several layers of security and likely some appeasement to the neighbors.

Concerns over how to keep the place secure, free from smelling and without light pollution, were the main concerns residents expressed at the meeting.

“In addition to everything the town is doing to protect and make sure this is a safe operation, the state has copious regulations,” Cutler, the lawyer, said.

Whately Police Chief James Sevigne Jr. attended the meeting, along with some town officials.

“We’re going to do some good things with the farmers; we’re going to do some good things with the town,” Herbert said. “We want to be your friends. We don’t want to be your enemies. We want to make it work for everybody.”