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BBJ 'Don’t mess with my livelihood,' hemp advocates tell lawmakers

25 Jun 2019 5:00 PM | Marion (Administrator)

By Jessica Bartlett – Reporter, Boston Business Journal

Jun 25, 2019, 6:39am EDT Updated 6 hours ago

See Correction/Clarification at end of article

Linda Noel had just finished planting her 400th hemp plant at her small Massachusetts farm when the state changed the industry’s rules.

She had planned to grow the plant to be consumed or processed for CBD — a derivative of both hemp and marijuana plants. But earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) released guidance banning the sale of hemp-derived CBD for use in food or as dietary supplement.

The guidance came six months after MDAR prohibited Noel from selling her first hemp crop to a hemp tea manufacturer. The dried hemp is still sitting in bins in her house.

“The whole industry is up in the air,” she said. “We don’t know if we wasted our time and money.”

Noel was one of dozens of farmers, retailers, advocates and attorneys who came out Monday to protest the MDAR guidance. Standing on the steps of the State House, over 30 advocates spoke about their participation in the industry, saying the state’s new rules threatened their livelihoods.

The rules came within a week of House lawmakers passing a bill that gives hemp farmers preferential tax treatment and allows hemp to be grown on land restricted as agricultural use. But farmers say they have no interest in growing hemp for use in textiles and rope.

“CBD hemp flower is the only way we can survive in this industry,” said Laura Beohner, president and co-founder of CBD processing company The Healing Rose in Newburyport. Boehner said she had just spent $30,000 and three months upgrading to a new facility, only to see the state issue rules eliminating her business.

“I already put my seeds in the ground,” said Ellen Brown, a Barnstable hemp farmer and hemp educator with Sinsemilla Seminars. “Don’t mess with my livelihood, I’ve already bet the farm on it.”



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Jim Borghesani, one of the people who helped pass cannabis legalization in the state, said it was an “absurd dichotomy” to have cannabis legalized and accessible but not hemp-derived CBD, which doesn’t give users a high. He asked Gov. Charlie Baker to ensure that retailers don’t have their products seized by state or local law enforcement.

“Until we get a law, we need leadership,” he said.

Salem resident Melissa Faulkner said her six-year-old son, Joshua Faulkner, uses CBD to control a rare form of epilepsy. She begged lawmakers and state administrators to reopen the pathway for the industry, and then handed the microphone to Joshua. “Gov. Baker, please help protect my rights,” Joshua said into the microphone.

Advocates say they plan to meet with MDAR officials in the coming weeks and may seek a legislative fix.

State lawmakers said they are supportive of hemp cultivation, though were mixed on whether that should include CBD production.

Rep. Dave Rogers, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, said the guidance still allows farmers to grow hemp for other uses. While the Legislature may want to take a look at whether CBD should be allowed in Massachusetts, it would need to be carefully studied and discussed.

“The legislature did not specifically include reference to CBD oil in our statute,” the Cambridge Democrat said of the state law legalizing hemp production. “So I’m not sure there was a specific legislative intent as to CBD oil. The policy statement from MDAR does allow hemp to be grown and used in a variety of ways, but it simply has said certain uses including CBD oil are (not allowed).”

State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli also said there was plenty of opportunity for farmers interested in hemp even without CBD products. Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, was the lead sponsor of the bill to create more incentives for hemp farming, and was involved in passing legislation around cannabis and hemp cultivation in 2017.

But he acknowledged that retailers were already selling CBD products in Massachusetts, and said lawmakers should be working diligently to find a way to include it within a legal framework.

“We have more work to do, that’s the bottom line,” Pignatelli said. “If it’s the Legislature that fixes it, fine, let’s talk. If it's administrative adjustments, that’s fine with me. We can’t ignore the positive effects of it, but how will we police and regulate it? That’s what we need to work on.”


An earlier version of this story misspelled the names of Melissa and Joshua Faulkner due to an error by organizers of the protest.

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