Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein envisions a large-scale industry in cannabis that will provide good jobs and benefits. He's looking to locate his first cultivation center in North Adams.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein had the perfect building ready and waiting to begin cultivating cannabis.
The former Lucent Technologies manufacturing plant had lain idle for years but offered more than 1 million square feet of growing space, up-to-date electrical systems and access to plenty of water. It would have been one of the largest indoor growing facilities in the world.
It was a "world-class factory," he said, and he and his wife owned it.
But opposition mobilized at a special town meeting in January placed a moratorium on all cannabis activities in North Andover, putting an end to Goldstein's efforts.
"So we were done, it was done," Goldstein said Friday evening at a community meeting for Valley Green Grow held at Greylock Works. The radiation oncologist was ready to go back to science, back to research, back to Israel, where he's director of cannabis research at Sheba Medical Center. But the day after the vote, he was getting calls and emails asking him to consider alternative locations.
"The 31st, I check my email and had half a dozen town managers and mayors call me ... come to us, we want the economic development, we want the jobs, we want the tax revenue."
One of those who reached out was Nial DeMena of Manna Molecular Science, who had applied for a medical dispensary license with the former Manna Wellness. DeMena, who's in Pittsfield, had pointed to North Adams as a good place for dispensary and maybe, now, for a cultivation site.
Operating as Valley Green Grow Inc., the company has filed with the state to operate a dispensary and a cultivation and processing location. The dispensary would be located at 1499 South State St., a small brick house that's found itself surrounded by commercial properties, with Cumberland Farms to its north and Hardman Industrial Park to the south.
The house would be leveled and a new building in line with state regulations constructed. It's estimated that it would serve an average of 30 to 50 customers a day who would make their purchases and then leave.
The second option is a large cultivation center, for which 1499 South State is acting as a placeholder. Goldstein said the company has found a suitable site in the city but it has been slow coming to terms with the owner. But he's also looking for multiple sites to prepare for when marijuana goes national.
It's estimated that the dispensary would create five to 10 full-time jobs, with half those going to North Adams residents. The cultivation sites, on the scale that Goldstein's considering, could bring dozens of good full-time jobs with benefits.
"The types of jobs we're creating are basically skilled labor," he said. "They're people you want to keep."
Right now the industry is labor intensive but even when it inevitably moves to automation, it will still require trained technicians to operate the machines.
"I don't want to develop an industry that's not sustainable," he said. "Economic sustainability for this industry is very important."
Beyond being used as a recreational drug, marijuana appears to have numerous medical applications from painkillers to treating to post-traumatic stress disorders to alleviating the opioid crisis.
"We think it's going to be an enormous boon for everybody," said DeMena, who gave a short presentation on the recent history of legalization, the state's requirements and the potential uses and development of cannabis plants.
Even if there are people opposed to its use and production, now that it's out in the open it's easier regulate, easier to talk about, he said.
"We think that there could be a very beneficial effect ... expanded economics, taxes, jobs, tourism," he said. "This is the fastest growing industry in the world ... we think for all these reasons, these are going to create a great benefit."
The immediate benefits for the city is a 3 percent local tax on marijuana products and a host community agreement that Mayor Thomas Bernard, who attended Friday's meeting, is negotiating with the Valley Green Grow.
Bernard said the agreement is not completed so is not yet public. In North Andover, the company had offered $5 million a year for 20 years, based on approval of the 1.1 million-square-foot facility, and $1 million for philanthropic efforts.
Only two people showed up for Friday's community meeting but the group plans at least two more in the future. Applications for marijuana facilities were accepted by the state at the beginning of the month and licenses are expected to be granted beginning July 1. The city passed its marijuana zoning and enforcement ordinances, and its adoption of the local tax, last month.
"We could not be happier to be in North Adams, just the response we've gotten from the community and Mayor Bernard and his administration has been very welcoming and very accepting," Goldstein said.
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