When cannabis was legalized in Massachusetts nearly two years ago, farmer Ted Dobson was eager to take advantage of two popular cash crops: marijuana and hemp, which can be used for a range of products, including CBD.
“I thought, wow, what a great opportunity ... that provides a pathway for farmers to make a living and actually make some money,” Dobson said. “And yet we've been stymied [and] stalemated from the very beginning.”
Dobson owns Equinox Farm in Sheffield, an organic farm he has operated for 36 years. He says he’s hoping to grow both marijuana and hemp crops.
According to state farming laws, farmers can grow hemp on agricultural land, but they can’t sell it, because hemp isn’t taxed as an agricultural crop. Because agricultural land gets special tax exemptions, selling a product not formally classified as a crop but grown on agricultural land would be considered a violation of state farming laws.
Hemp, a part of the cannabis plant, doesn’t have any psychoactive effects — meaning it cannot get someone high — but CBD is used to treat a range of conditions, from anxiety and pain relief to aiding in sleep.
President Donald Trump signed a law to legalize hemp across the country in 2016. Hemp was legalized in Massachusetts that same year, and the state issued 13 licenses in 2018 to grow the plant. But because of the gap in agricultural law, Dobson says the CBD market has been largely monopolized by out-of-state businesses with product from out-of-state farms.
“There there are CBD products from all over the world ... that are flooding Massachusetts every day,” Dobson said. “Yet we farmers have been penalized because the state has not done its due diligence.”
“If you sense my frustration, it’s because it's spring and I still don't have a legal avenue to to actually grow and sell this,” Dobson continued.
At a hearing before the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy Thursday, Dobson and ten other farmers from around the state expressed their support for a set of bills, proposed by Sen. Adam Hinds, (D-Pittsfield) Rep. Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox), that would re-categorize hemp and bring local farmers into the market.
The bill passed in the Senate in March, and was referred to the Joint Committee before a potential vote in the House.