By Guy Page
Here’s something Vermont towns may face if Vermont legalizes “tax and regulate” commercial marijuana: a 1 million square-foot marijuana cultivation and retail complex.
Massachusetts began issuing marijuana dispensary licenses in July. The town of Charlton (population 13,438) is in turmoil over a proposed 1 million square-foot greenhouse, retail and research complex, with its own 18 megawatt fossil-fuel powered electricity plant, according to the Sept. 5 Worcester Telegram. To put 1 million square feet in perspective, the 135,000 square feet Costco warehouse in Colchester is less than one-seventh its size.
Valley Green Grow of Andover, Massachusetts, minimizes the impact on the rural town near the Rhode Island border. “All the outlining woods will still be here,” a company spokesperson said in May. “Unless you’re looking on Google Earth, you won’t even know it’s up here.”
But it’s not the view — mostly — that people in town are worried about. Valley Green Grow came in with a promised package of fees and taxes suited to appeal to town selectmen. Townspeople say other issues — like quality of life, odor, traffic, and being known as the town that manufacturers a destructive, addictive drug — were never given serious, public consideration. Then there’s the 18 megawatt natural gas power plant.
Growing almost a million square feet of marijuana requires vast amounts of electricity to operate the grow lights, heaters, air conditioners and other equipment that maximizes plant growth. Massachusetts state energy officials concede that legal commercial cultivation of marijuana will place a huge strain the state’s electricity demand. Bay State officials are eager to import more power from Canada to meet rising demand and the generation that will be lost when Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, the state’s largest generator, closes next July.
At Charlton Planning Commission hearings, the company lawyers say potential problems — light pollution, odor, stormwater runoff, traffic — have been accounted for. Frustrated by their town fathers’ acceptance of the project due to the windfall in taxes and fees, townspeople in August called for a townwide prohibition on all non-medical marijuana-related enterprises. The vote will take next May.
The CEO of Valley Green Grow is Jeffrey Goldstein. Goldstein also wants to build a smaller marijuana grow facility and dispensary in North Adams, Massachusetts, just a few miles from the Vermont state line, according to IBerkshires.com.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.