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NOFA/Mass and Cannabis & Hemp

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 July Issue Newsletter

By Julie Rawson, Education and Executive Director

Cannabis (Photo courtesy via Kirill Ignatyev Creative Commons License)

With all the publicity about the new law making the growing and distribution of adult-use cannabis possible in our state, who isn’t thinking about cannabis (formerly known by its Prohibition term, marijuana)? In December, NOFA/Mass held a very popular workshop at Hampshire College for folks who were interested in learning the legalities around growing this crop. It sold out and we promised to hold more of these events, bolstered by the Board’s spring 2017 decision that this was a topic we wanted to educate about.

Cannabis cultivation education came up again at our Spring Board and Staff Retreat in March 2018. This time flags were raised about our potential legal exposure as an organization, should we get heavily involved in this type of education. As adult-use cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, there was concern that we might, for example, risk losing our 501(c)(3) status. A small sub-committee met to look more deeply into this issue, and a larger conversation was had at May’s meeting of the Board of Directors. At that time it was decided that we will not pursue technical education about cannabis cultivation, however we continue our advocacy around this topic.

The plant has been bred as a medicine, sacrament and intoxicant over the millenia to have a high amount of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The same species of plant (Cannabis sativa) has also been bred for fiber content rather than THC content (such as the plants which were required to be grown by all land-owners in the original colonies of "the New World," and is referred to now as "industrial hemp.”). Hemp may also contain other cannabinoids, such as CBD, and used as medicine. The legal limit for THC content of industrial hemp is 0.5% (as compared to high potency cannabis strains with upwards of 25%.), and will not produce an intoxicating effect if consumed.

Regarding cannabis advocacy

Here are a few areas, under the leadership of Policy Director Marty Dagoberto, that we may pursue. This comes up for a final vote at our Board Meeting on July 16, so stay tuned:

  • Mobilizing our members on meetings of their local municipal governments in order to support local farmers who want to grow cannabis.
  • Educating the Cannabis Control Commission and other departments about the realities of growing cannabis on a farm (rather than inside a warehouse) so that farmers are not regulated out of the industry.
  • Advocating for the removal of the Zoning Exclusion for cannabis. Unlike other crops, cannabis is not classified as “agricultural” under the Commission’s new regulations and is excluded from the Chapter 40A Right to Farm protections.

Regarding Hemp Education

It was agreed that the NOFA/Mass Education Committee can approve advocacy and education programs related to hemp so long as those programs do not violate state or federal law or regulations. At a committee meeting to discuss this on June 14, there was general enthusiasm on this topic. There are initial conversations about the possibility of a day-long event with some experts from Kentucky, where there is already industrial hemp cultivation. A small sub-committee of Bill Braun (Board Member), Marty Dagoberto (Policy Director), and Caro Roszell (Education Event Coordinator), will come up with a list of activities around industrial hemp cultivation. You should be seeing more on this very soon.

The conversation around recreational cannabis and industrial hemp has been challenging for NOFA/Mass, and we want to thread our way through it as carefully and thoughtfully as possible. We understand that some members feel strongly that we need to educate on these topics, while others may think that it’s not our role, nor that it is appropriate.

Please feel free to write me with your thoughts on either NOFA/Mass involvement with recreational cannabis regarding advocacy or education. Additionally, if you have thoughts about the validity or usefulness of education around industrial hemp cultivation, please be in touch. You can contact me at julie@nofamass.org.

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