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Farmer’s ‘dream come true’: Great Barrington cannabis retailer gets final state license to grow outdoors

Dobson has two greenhouses already up and is building a third. That way, he can continue to grow over the winter. But the bottom line is there won't be as much outdoor product as there would be in a normal growing season.

Great Barrington — One of the first outdoor marijuana cultivation facilities on the East Coast has received its final approval from the state—and the new farm will be located in Berkshire County.

Wednesday, the state Cannabis Control Commission gave its final approval to independent Great Barrington cannabis retailer Theory Wellness to operate an outdoor cultivation facility in partnership with Sheffield organic farmer Ted Dobson. Click here to see the CCC’s decision on the provisional license back in April, when The Edge ran a previous story on the partnership.

The staff of Theory Wellness in Great Barrington greet customers Jan. 11, the opening day of the business’ recreational marijuana sales. Photo: Terry Cowgill

That document is almost identical to the CCC’s final license decision, which has not yet been posted to the commission’s website, Theory CEO Brandon Pollock said.

“This approval represents an unprecedented new step in East Coast cannabis through a joint partnership with an agricultural farmer with 35 years of organic cultivation experience,” Theory marketing director Thomas Winstanley told The Edge.

“The approval comes not a moment too soon, as the season for cultivating cannabis outdoors is quickly coming to an end,” Winstanley said. “Theory expects the first plants to hit the soil in a matter of days, with the first harvest to come this fall.”

In an interview, Dobson said the ability to grow cannabis legally is “a dream come true,” though it was a “nail biter with a lot of red tape, and a highly regulated market.”

Dobson has two greenhouses already up and is building a third. That way, he can continue to grow over the winter. But the bottom line is there won’t be as much outdoor product as there would be in a normal growing season, and next year “We will really get a chance to sink our teeth into it.”

“I’m very happy and I’ve been working on this for years,” Dobson said. “To actually be able to do this legally, I pinch myself. I’m so glad not to be ducking helicopters.”

CannaSol Farms in Okanogan, Wash., a rural area about four hours east of Seattle that was established when the state legalized marijuana. The legalization of recreational marijuana opened up similar agricultural opportunities in Massachusetts. Photo courtesy CNN

Even as Dobson has partnered with Theory, he has sold his popular salad greens business at Equinox Farm to Peter Chapin, who will lease 8.5 of Dobson’s 15 acres to grow arugula, mesclun and other greens. Farming runs in Chapin’s family, as his mother, Jan Johnson, owns Mill River Farm in New Marlborough.

Dobson and Theory will cultivate the marijuana on 2 acres, all of which will be fenced in and equipped with the state-of-the-art security features required by the CCC, likely including video surveillance and alarms. Dobson has credited a new zoning bylaw in Sheffield for facilitating the cannabis project.

In a separate development, Nova Farms (formerly BCWC), a manufacturer headquartered in Attleboro, earlier this year acquired a farm in Sheffield on Kellogg Road, part of which it plans to use to cultivate cannabis and related products for distribution to retailers. Nova recently received approval from the CCC to begin cultivation operations.

Pollock said an advantage of cannabis grown outdoors is that it’s less energy-intensive. Indeed, Winstanley added that, “Not only will the partnership serve as a potential model for other cannabis companies, but it significantly reduces the environmental impact of indoor cultivation.” The disadvantage of the outdoors, of course, is the short growing season and the fact that so many factors are out of your control.

Theory Wellness co-owner Brandon Pollock. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“We are extremely concerned with the environmental impact of indoor cultivation; thus outdoor cultivation is an opportunity to take a more sustainable approach and reduce our company’s overall carbon footprint,” Pollock said, adding that growing outdoors uses about 1 percent of the energy needed to cultivate indoors. “We also get to work with someone as experienced as Ted who knows organic cultivation better than most.”

Pollock is confident that he and Dobson can “cram in” a growing season, especially since cannabis is a weed and it grows relatively fast and is also hardy. In addition, some product started indoors at Theory’s grow facility in Bridgewater will be transported to Sheffield to be transplanted and mature outdoors in the Berkshires.

Pollock said the project does not need any additional permits from the town of Sheffield. He met recently with police chief Eric Munson to go over the security system. Theory has obtained clearance from the building inspector for the required security fencing. The project has the support of town manager Rhonda LaBombard and the host community agreement has been successfully negotiated with the board of selectmen.

Medical marijuana being grown hydroponically by Theory Wellness at a facility in Bridgewater, Mass.

“One of the great things about Sheffield is that it’s an agriculture-centered community,” Pollock said.

Pollock also disclosed that Theory has another retail facility planned for Chicopee. Theory received a provisional license for that store at the end of May. That facility will be a little larger than the one in Great Barrington. Pollock said Theory has about 140 employees. About 50 of them work at the Great Barrington store.

The cultivation, sale and use of recreational cannabis-related products was legalized in Massachusetts through a 2016 ballot initiative. The measure passed by almost 7.5 percentage points statewide and by almost 30 points in Great Barrington. Implementation of the new law was left to the hastily created state Cannabis Control Commission. Preceding that law, medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2012 through the same process.


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