Letter to the Editor:
Vote YES to Indoor Growing, and NO to Widespread Outdoor, in Williamstown

How far are you from a five-acre lot in Rural Residential Zones 1, 2, or 3? The vast majority of land in Williamstown meets these criteria for outdoor cultivation of marijuana.
August 15, 2020
person holding green canabis
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

How far are you from a five-acre lot in Rural Residential Zones 1, 2, or 3? The vast majority of land in Williamstown meets these criteria for outdoor cultivation of marijuana.

Many of us want to support our local farmers, but Article #34, the hastily proposed Citizen’s Petition for outdoor cultivation of pot, is too one-sided and reckless. A vote to POSTPONE, or a NO vote, would send it to the Planning Board to coordinate an informed compromise.
In the meantime, a YES vote for Article #33, for limited indoor growing only, would responsibly manage immediate concerns over noxious odors and other issues. Importantly, a YES on indoor Article #33 is needed to postpone outdoor growing, as our current law is wide open to large commercial outdoor grows.

The primary concern over outdoor growing is an oppressive “dead skunk stench” that can reach a half mile or more during two months of ripening and harvest each year (late summer and early fall in our climate), as reported widely in national newspapers.

See, for example, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/19/us/california-marijuana-stink.html Or do the Google. Lawsuits. Respiratory health issues. Duct tape sealing the windows and doors. Industrial strength air cleaners to live inside one’s own home. Respirators in the gardens. Up to half a mile away or more.

In contrast to the reported half mile stench, the outdoor bylaw would only protect 500 feet from the nearest residence (and from our new high school). The setback is only 75 feet. The town has not yet done any accurate mapping to illustrate the possible impacts on you or your neighbors. Too hasty, and too close for comfort.

And it’s not apparent the School Committee or the Board of Health have been consulted about, say, our student athletes training and competing in the volatile organic stench of a ripe, adjacent expanse of marijuana.
But is the proposed one acre of canopy (spread within each five-acre lot) enough to support our local farmers? It’s larger than anything Washington and Oregon allow. Large enough to produce long ranging odors. And large enough to produce $3-5 million per year in wholesale revenues.

While our local farmers can be trusted to grow responsibly, and probably aren’t chasing $3-5 million per year, the incredible profits will likely attract large cannabis companies from out of town without restraint. They will grow the most potent, profitable strains without regard to stench. A 60-acre pasture could subdivided into a dozen multi-million dollar noxious grows.
Currently there’s very little to stop a large commercial grow operation springing up near you. And, once the town grants a Special Permit for these operations it cannot be revoked. There is no “do-over” for Special Permits.
A YES vote for Article #33, for indoor growing, would contain the situation with odor controls, reviews and other responsible limits. And it prohibits outdoor cultivation until the town can agree upon an outdoor bylaw of its own.

You may recall a year and a half ago the Sweets Corner neighborhood was united against MassFlora’s proposal for a large commercial grow operation at 295 Blair Road. In anticipation of cratering property values and lost qualities of life in bucolic Williamstown, it was a time of high anxiety, sleepless nights, and many meetings and letters and public statements.
In the face of such strong opposition, MassFlora ultimately withdrew. But the risks of another large uncontrolled grow remain.

The Planning Board attempted with a year’s work on indoor Article #33 to offer some relief. They also voted in February to table an outdoor bylaw as too rushed and speculative, especially as no outdoor proponents had yet engaged (the Agricultural Committee had been invited, but declined). At the time, the Board envisioned inviting (again) the Agricultural Commission and local farmers to work together with the rest of the town on an outdoor bylaw for next year’s town meeting.

I recommend the same. Stabilize our situation at this town meeting, and continue to work in anticipation of next year’s.

This year, please vote YES for indoor, and NO or POSTPONE on the outdoor.

— Andrew Skinner, Williamstown

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