MD: High Hopes, But No Buzz For Growing Medical Cannabis On Farmland

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County leaders earlier this month let expire a bill that would have allowed medical cannabis to be grown in the countys agricultural zones, the idea drying up in the face of opposition from Fredericks farming community.

We think that was a mistake. When the law to allow medical cannabis cultivation in Maryland was still being drafted in Annapolis, members of the farming community from across the state worked hard to make sure agricultural producers wouldnt be left out, with many viewing it as an opportunity to diversify in order to remain as farmers in business. And both of the applicants that have been granted a preliminary license in Frederick County by the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission had hoped to set up agricultural operations. The retreat from allowing growing in farming areas means the winners in Frederick County will have to limit their operations to energy-intensive, indoor warehouse operations on land zoned for industrial use.

County Council Vice President M.C. Keegan-Ayer said her decision to table her bill grew in part from the controversy over the racial and geographic diversity of applicants to the program as well as the possible ethics investigation of a state lawmaker with ties to the industry.

But her efforts to craft a bill were really stopped by the united stone wall of the countys Farm Bureau, the Agriculture Business Council and the Agriculture Preservation Advisory Board. County farmers maintained their opposition even after Keegan-Ayer floated more restrictive measures that would have allowed cannabis cultivation only in greenhouses as a special exception on lots of 25 acres or more, that would have required security and lighting of the sites and that required annual reports of security incidents at any facility. She even floated a bill establishing only a pilot program that limited participation to the earliest applicants to the state commission.

But the farming community wasnt having any of it. At its most recent meeting on the bill earlier this month, Frederick County Council members were warned by farming leaders that a vote to support growing medical cannabis on farmland would be remembered come election time. Writing to the council earlier this year, Richard Grossnickle, chairman of the preservation advisory board, said farmland shouldnt become a dumping ground for other uses. Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins told council members he was also against cannabis being grown in the county – anywhere.

Local farmers said they dont view cannabis cultivation as an agricultural activity. But what exactly does that mean? Last time we checked, marijuana was green, grows in soil and responds to cultivation. Sounds like farming to us. Leaders in Baltimore County voted to allow growing in its agricultural zones when that locality became the first jurisdiction in Maryland to establish zoning rules for medical cannabis last year after the passage of the 2014 law.

Medical cannabis promises to be big business, and the cultivation of medical cannabis is going to proceed in Maryland with or without the participation of Frederick Countys farming community. In Colorado, sales of medical and recreational marijuana totaled almost $1 billion in 2015. Here in Maryland, an estimate by the cannabis research company Arcview early this year projected cannabis sales could reach $9.7 million by mid-2017, while a recent estimate by New Frontier Data estimates projected sales as high as nearly $130 million by 2020. Marylands selection process saw 146 growers and 124 processors compete for just 15 growing and 15 processing preliminary licenses.

It is true that the selection of growers and processors has been riddled with problems. Two companies have filed suit, claiming they were overlooked in the rush to pursue geographic diversity as a goal and the commission is being criticized by some black lawmakers because of the lack of racial diversity in its selection. Come next year, state legislators could consider a number of fixes to the law, perhaps even increasing the number of licenses issued. If that happens, Frederick County farm officials might want to look at how things are coming up in Baltimore County before uprooting economic opportunities for farmers here.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: High Hopes, But No Buzz For Growing Medical Cannabis On Farmland
Author: Staff
Contact: 301-662-1177
Photo Credit: Seth Perlman
Website: The Frederick News-Post